The answer is blowin’ in the wind
How is man going to keep up with increasing energy demand while the amount of available fossil fuel diminishes? The answer could be wind power, the capturing of the energy contained in gusts of wind.
What is wind Energy?
Man has been using wind energy for thousands of years. Windmills, sails and even kites are all devices designed to harness the awesome power produced when the wind blows. Even modern aircraft benefit from wind power. Pilots flying westward usually expend much effort trying to make sure they place themselves in the jet stream, the hundred mile per hour wind caused by the earth spinning. Now engineers are able to convert such power into electricity, pump it into grids and provide energy for homes.
How wind energy works
Much of the basic technology for wind energy has been around for years, windmills being the most obvious examples. Modern devices usually have three blades of between 20 and 40 metres long and rotate either on a vertical or horizontal axis. They are able to swivel to turn into the wind. Many even contain gear boxes allowing for increase and decrease in rotations per minute depending on wind speed. Wind farms can be situated in land or out to sea, although most are sited in areas which experience constant wind power.
Advantages of wind energy
Wind energy is a fairly reliable source of energy for those living in areas experiencing a lot of wind, although volatility means that it always needs to be supplemented with other energy resources. Once installation is complete, energy is much cheaper than that extracted from fossil fuels. Wind energy can be produced on a much smaller scale and, in the future, the sight of small propeller-shaped objects on the roofs of eco homes will be common.
Disadvantages of wind energy
Wind energy is particularly unpredictable and cannot be relied on even when turbines are built in areas known for high wind. Paradoxically, too much wind can often damage turbines which, as they are built to be easily propelled, are not always particularly resilient. At the same time, turbines are often thought of as an eyesore with some advocating putting wind energy plants out to sea. This presents its own problems as they usually interfere with navigation equipment, a particular problem in busy areas such as Europe’s North Sea where many wind power plants are either already situated or planned for the future. Constructing turbines at sea also makes them much more vulnerable to storms and the damaging effects of tides, significantly reducing their life-span.
Wind energy around the world
For many countries, wind is the cornerstone of future energy policy. Most regions across the world have access to at least some of this resource. Large wind turbines are a PR boon for governments giving proof that they are serious about green energy initiatives. Perhaps because of this, it has been mostly rich countries which have embraced wind energy technologies. World leaders of wind energy include Germany, Denmark and Japan.
Wind energy in Australia
The Australian government, both at the federal and state level, has been quick to see the benefits of wind energy. There are currently 52 wind farms across Australia with the state of South Australia producing nearly half of the nation’s wind energy. However, Australia currently lags behind other nations in terms of its wind energy output and is ranked 15th worldwide, producing only 2% of its overall energy from wind. This figure may be mitigated by its investment elsewhere, including in solar and tidal energy systems.
While wind power is a useful tool for governments interested in producing renewable energy, it is clear it can only be used in conjunction with other energy resources - an energy for the future, but not an energy for heavy industry or for mining.
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