Wind seems to be everywhere especially in Britain, and there appear to be more wind farms popping up all over the country and, in fact, worldwide. But what is wind power, how useful is it, and what is the future for this renewable resource?
Here at AShortScientist, we have discussed numerous renewable energy sources but wind power is currently the only renewable source that could compete with fossil fuels. In some regions around the world, the energy generated is already as cheap as coal. Some people believe wind turbines are an eyesore, and disrupt the natural landscapes of the Globe. Fear not worried souls! It is thought most new wind farms will be offshore as power generated out at sea is much greater than that on land, as there are no obstacles to slow the wind. On land however, vast expanses such as “The Great Plains” in the US and Canada, have been hailed the “Saudi Arabia of wind power“. Huge open spaces, where wind is undisturbed, are likely to be harnessed for wind power in the near future.
How exactly do we get power from the wind? As with the other energy sources we’ve talked about at AShortScientist (i.e. hydrogen fuel, solar power, gravity trains etc.), we must remember the First Law of Thermodynamics: energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred. Therefore for us to harness energy from the wind, we are just converting between energy types: from potential energy of the wind to mechanical energy of the turbine blades turning. This mechanical energy can be used for numerous tasks from pumping water or grinding grain, to generating electricity for homes and businesses. As the blades turn in the wind, they power an electric generator, supplying an electrical current. They’re the opposite of fans.
The power of the wind has been used for thousands of years. From adventurers on the high seas, using wind in their sails to propel their boats, to windmills used from 1180 in Northwestern Europe for grinding flour, and finally the first wind turbine to generate electricity in Glasgow in 1887 created by Professor James Blyth. The turbine has changed since 1887 and continues to be developed for better design and more efficient energy conversion. Blyth’s turbine was 10m tall and had cloth sails. It generated enough energy for lighting in a home and the surrounding street lights, however, the people of Marykirk dismissed it as ‘the work of the devil’. (Luckily, the majority of people no longer hold these views…) Turbines today are a lot more complicated than that used in 1180 but the principle is the same: use wind to harness renewable energy. This LINK from the US Energy Department is a great breakdown of each part of a wind turbine.
What is the future wind power? Other than the turbines we are used to seeing on rolling hills or out at sea, what else is there for wind power? Huge wind turbines are relatively expensive in material and installation however, Sanwal Muneer (an entrepreneur from Pakistan) has created a prototype for small turbines on the sides of the road – turning traffic into energy. Sanwal won funding from SHELL who have helped commission a prototype now used on the main road leading to Dundee, Scotland. This small turbine rotates in the wind generated from passing cars and charges a battery stored below ground. The turbine is 2.5m tall and made of carbon fibre, weighing only 9kg, making it easy to transport and install. If these turbines were to line busy roads, this could be a great source of renewable energy for rural communities or to power traffic lights and road signs in urban areas. Integrated solar panels add to the energy in the system. The business is Capture Mobility and you should check this LINK for more details. A very similar turbine is in the following short video.
The US Energy Department reported that wind plants in California offset more than 2.5 billion pounds of CO2 in 1990 alone. As well as generating large amounts of our Global energy demand, relieving the strain on fossil fuel use, and limiting increasing damage to the planet, wind farms are potentially great economically too. Places where oil is no longer sourced, the Rust Belt in the US, steel and coal industrial areas in the UK, can all benefit from a rise in wind power. This source of renewable energy could bring economic growth and a new lease of life to cities and areas in decline. Alongside the giant turbines I still wonder at along the motorway, we soon may see much smaller portable turbines for our own gardens, and others dotted along our high streets. Wind power is certainly more than just a whisper in a breeze, it’s coming, and it means business.