Wind power
Published:2014-08-23 14:40:19    Text Size:【BIG】【MEDIUM】【SMALL

Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy, such as using wind turbines to produce electrical power, windmills for mechanical power,windpumps for water pumping or drainage, or sails to propel ships.

Large wind farms consist of hundreds of individual wind turbines which are connected to the electric power transmission network. For new constructions, onshore wind is an inexpensive source of electricity, competitive with or in many places cheaper than fossil fuel plants. Offshore wind is steadier and stronger than on land, and offshore farms have less visual impact, but construction and maintenance costs are considerably higher. Small onshore wind farms can feed some energy into the grid or provide electricity to isolated off-grid locations.

Wind power, as an alternative to fossil fuels, is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed,clean, produces no greenhouse gas emissions during operation and uses little land.The effects on the environment are generally less problematic than those from other power sources. As of 2011, Denmark is generating more than a quarter of its electricity from wind and 83 countries around the world are using wind power to supply the electricity grid. In 2010 wind energy production was over 2.5% of total worldwide electricity usage, and growing rapidly at more than 25% per annum.

Wind power is very consistent from year to year but has significant variation over shorter time scales. As the proportion of windpower in a region increases, a need to upgrade the grid, and a lowered ability to supplant conventional production can occur. Power management techniques such as having excess capacity storage, geographically distributed turbines, dispatchable backing sources, storage such aspumped-storage hydroelectricity, exporting and importing power to neighboring areas or reducing demand when wind production is low, can greatly mitigate these problems. In addition, weather forecasting permits the electricity network to be readied for the predictable variations in production that occur. Wind power can be considered a topic in applied eolics.

Capacity factor

Since wind speed is not constant, a wind farm's annual energy production is never as much as the sum of the generator nameplate ratings multiplied by the total hours in a year. The ratio of actual productivity in a year to this theoretical maximum is called the capacity factor. Typical capacity factors are 15–50%; values at the upper end of the range are achieved in favourable sites and are due to wind turbine design improvements.

Online data is available for some locations, and the capacity factor can be calculated from the yearly output. For example, the German nation-wide average wind power capacity factor over all of 2012 was just under 17.5% (45867 GW·h/yr / (29.9 GW × 24 × 366) = 0.1746), and the capacity factor for Scottish wind farms averaged 24% between 2008 and 2010.

Unlike fueled generating plants, the capacity factor is affected by several parameters, including the variability of the wind at the site and the size of the generator relative to the turbine's swept area. A small generator would be cheaper and achieve a higher capacity factor but would produce less electricity (and thus less profit) in high winds. Conversely, a large generator would cost more but generate little extra power and, depending on the type, may stall out at low wind speed. Thus an optimum capacity factor of around 40–50% would be aimed for.

In a 2008 study released by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the capacity factor achieved by the U.S. wind turbine fleet is shown to be increasing as the technology improves. The capacity factor achieved by new wind turbines in 2010 reached almost 40%.


Wind energy penetration refers to the fraction of energy produced by wind compared with the total available generation capacity. There is no generally accepted maximum level of wind penetration. The limit for a particular grid will depend on the existing generating plants, pricing mechanisms, capacity for energy storage, demand management and other factors. An interconnected electricity grid will already include reserve generating andtransmission capacity to allow for equipment failures. This reserve capacity can also serve to compensate for the varying power generation produced by wind plants. Studies have indicated that 20% of the total annual electrical energy consumption may be incorporated with minimal difficulty. These studies have been for locations with geographically dispersed wind farms, some degree of dispatchable energy or hydropower with storage capacity, demand management, and interconnected to a large grid area enabling the export of electricity when needed. Beyond the 20% level, there are few technical limits, but the economic implications become more significant. Electrical utilities continue to study the effects of large scale penetration of wind generation on system stability and economics.

A wind energy penetration figure can be specified for different durations of time. On an annual basis, as of 2011, few grid systems have penetration levels above 5%: Denmark – 29%, Portugal – 19%, Spain – 19%, Ireland – 18%, and Germany – 11%. For the U.S. in 2011, the penetration level was estimated at 3.3%. To obtain 100% from wind annually requires substantial long term storage. On a monthly, weekly, daily, or hourly basis—or less—wind can supply as much as or more than 100% of current use, with the rest stored or exported. Seasonal industry can take advantage of high wind and low usage times such as at night when wind output can exceed normal demand. Such industry can include production of silicon, aluminum, steel, or of natural gas, and hydrogen, which allow long term storage, facilitating 100% energy from variable renewable energy. Homes can also be programmed to accept extra electricity on demand, for example by remotely turning up water heater thermostats.

Wind power is capital intensive, but has no fuel costs. The price of wind power is therefore much more stable than the volatile prices of fossil fuel sources. Themarginal cost of wind energy once a plant is constructed is usually less than 1-cent per kW·h. This cost has additionally reduced as wind turbine technology has improved. There are now longer and lighter wind turbine blades, improvements in turbine performance and increased power generation efficiency. Also, wind project capital and maintenance costs have continued to decline.

The estimated average cost per unit incorporates the cost of construction of the turbine and transmission facilities, borrowed funds, return to investors (including cost of risk), estimated annual production, and other components, averaged over the projected useful life of the equipment, which may be in excess of twenty years. Energy cost estimates are highly dependent on these assumptions so published cost figures can differ substantially. In 2004, wind energy cost a fifth of what it did in the 1980s, and some expected that downward trend to continue as larger multi-megawattturbines were mass-produced. As of 2012 capital costs for wind turbines are substantially lower than 2008–2010 but are still above 2002 levels. A 2011 report from the American Wind Energy Association stated, "Wind's costs have dropped over the past two years, in the range of 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour recently.... about 2 cents cheaper than coal-fired electricity, and more projects were financed through debt arrangements than tax equity structures last year.... winning more mainstream acceptance from Wall Street's banks.... Equipment makers can also deliver products in the same year that they are ordered instead of waiting up to three years as was the case in previous cycles.... 5,600 MW of new installed capacity is under construction in the United States, more than double the number at this point in 2010. Thirty-five percent of all new power generation built in the United States since 2005 has come from wind, more than new gas and coal plants combined, as power providers are increasingly enticed to wind as a convenient hedge against unpredictable commodity price moves."

A British Wind Energy Association report gives an average generation cost of onshore wind power of around 3.2 pence (between US 5 and 6 cents) per kW·h (2005). Cost per unit of energy produced was estimated in 2006 to be comparable to the cost of new generating capacity in the US for coal and natural gas: wind cost was estimated at $55.80 per MW·h, coal at $53.10/MW·h and natural gas at $52.50. Similar comparative results with natural gas were obtained in a governmental study in the UK in 2011. The presence of wind energy, even when subsidised, can reduce costs for consumers (€5 billion/yr in Germany) by reducing the marginal price, by minimising the use of expensive peaking power plants.

In February 2013 Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that the cost of generating electricity from new wind farms is cheaper than new coal or new baseload gas plants. When including the current Australian federal government carbon pricing scheme their modeling gives costs (in Australian dollars) of $80/MWh for new wind farms, $143/MWh for new coal plants and $116/MWh for new baseload gas plants. The modeling also shows that "even without a carbon price (the most efficient way to reduce economy-wide emissions) wind energy is 14% cheaper than new coal and 18% cheaper than new gas." Part of the higher costs for new coal plants is due to high financial lending costs because of "the reputational damage of emissions-intensive investments". The expense of gas fired plants is partly due to "export market" effects on local prices. Costs of production from coal fired plants built in "the 1970s and 1980s" are cheaper than renewable energy sources because of depreciation.

The wind industry in the USA is now able to produce more power at lower cost by using taller wind turbines with longer blades, capturing the faster winds at higher elevations. This has opened up new opportunities and in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, the price of power from wind turbines built 300 feet to 400 feet above the ground can now compete with conventional fossil fuels like coal. Prices have fallen to about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour in some cases and utilities have been increasing the amount of wind energy in their portfolio, saying it is their cheapest option.

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