GreenTech

Wind power can become the main electric provider

Last year the total installed  wind capacity was 54.6 gigawatts globally. And according to the Global Wind Energy Council today’s total installed windmills produce circa 487 gigawatts.The first place goes to the Chinese market with a total share of  42.7%. In order to meet their increasing electronic needs the country installed 23.3 gigawatts of new wind mill farms and if the growth stays at the same pace they can provide 26% of their own market supply by the end of 2030, says a study of the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) USA. On the second place you have USA, where less than 8.3 gigawatts windmill power was installed, supplying 4.7 % of the entire electricity in the country. In this article we”re going to look at which modern windmills are mainly used on today’s market and what the (dis)advantages are from this ”new” invention. And lastly, why their is a big spurt in investments and growth in the industry.

A wind electric turbine captures kinetic energy when the wind particles are moving quickly. Just as a hydroelectric dam, but instead of liquid particles that drives this motion it’s gas particles. The turbines blades capture wind energy and this is transferred to a generator. Which turns this into energy. It all starts with how the wind is being transferred: the sun heats up a land area it absorbs the heat. That hot air comes free and stats to rise quickly when a certain temperature is being reached. Because hot air travels faster, lighter and exerts more pressure than their cooler counterpart the cool air flows fast to fill the gap that the hotter air has left behind. It’s being picked up with the sail of a sailboat. The same happens with  a wind turbine. Which is placed where hot&cool air meet each other in order to capture this motion. Modern wind mills basically exits of rotor blades, a shaft and a generator.

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One of the Siemens SWT-3.2-101 wind turbines in South Lanarkshire, Scotland (UK)

The invention of the windmill dates back 200 B.C., but the modern variant was already widespread throughout America by the 1930’s, with a estimation of 600.000. These were placed in rural areas for water pluming and electricity. After all these years there are advantages and disadvantages to windmills. We start with the ladder. Some people don’t like the appearance of windmills and find them to make allot of noise. While new designs show significant improvements with noise and looks are a question of taste. Furthermore, wind-turbines pose a threat to flying wildlife: such as bats and birds. Compared to collisions with buildings chances are slim. The annual fatalities of flying wildlife is less than 500.000 and for buildings it’s around 976 million in the USA. Another important fact is that wind energy can’t be stored and it’s unpredictable. On 7 August 2016 Scotland wind power plants produced free energy for a entire day overriding the quota of 106%. The predicted strong wind of that week resulted in a record-breaking result in this area. 

On the other hand prices are decreasing since the 1980’s with 80%. At this moment some countries can effort to make wind and solar energy cheaper than fossil fuels, according to Lazard’s 2016 ”Levelized Cost of Energy Analysis 10.0 ”report. The operational costs are low and horizontal turbines are space efficient, but can’t be placed too close to each other.  According to M. Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board for Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) renewable energy is becoming cheaper to produce. Because their is twice as much clean energy global funding investment being made than fossil fuels. In the beginning government subsidies made wind and solar power accessible for the mass market, but now economies of scale are investing in these projects. Which means falling prices. And the oil/gas industry face declining investment and prices have tumbled. 

Currently, wind power prices are either the same or cheaper in more than 30 countries according to the World Economic Forum 2016 report called: Renewable Infrastructure Investment Handbook: A Guide for Institutional Investors. “Renewable energy has reached a tipping point–it now constitutes the best chance to reverse global warming. . It is not only a commercially viable option, but an outright compelling investment opportunity with long-term, stable, inflation-protected returns,” said M. Drexler, who leads infrastructure and development investing at the World Economic Forum.  However BNEF says that this renewable energy happens not fast enough to reverse the impact that fossil fuel dependency left behind.  And according to the Paris Agreement of UNFCCC global investors lack the drive toe invest in renewable energy. The worldwide investment is only 25% of the total $1 trillion goal. renee van wesep 02And although it can’t be stored wind energy is renewable and occurs naturally. If we could harness the maximum power according researchers the potential annual wind electric power could be 400 Terrawats (TW) worldwide.  Lastly, wind-turbines slightly contributes to global warming, because it’s manufactured, transported and installed. However, they are durable and make use of a natural abundance source: wind. It doesn’t involve harmful greenhouse gases or emissions. 

At this moment you can divide wind power in three main technologies. First we have the modern wind power technology where you have two primary designs. These are vertical axis turbines (VAWT’s) and the horizontal axis wind turbines (HAWT’s). The VAWT’s also known as the egg beater are pretty rare from a commercial perspective. Because VAWT’s are typically mounted to the ground, which means easy installation and maintenance, but it can intervene with the daily lives from for example farmers and there is less wind. Unlike popular commercial HAWT’s VAWT’s are always aligned with the wind, but can’t start by themselves.

Next up we have HAWT’s , which are horizontally parallel to the ground. Because of the height engineers use a tower in order to lift turbine components, this is a laborious task. However, they take little ground space and won’t interfere with human life. HAWT’s make use of a yaw system, that usually consists of gearboxes and electric motors, which moves them little by little in the optimal wind direction. This automatic process is done by the turbine’s electronic controller, which reads the position of the wind.

Lastly, we have the turbine Aerodynamics design. This is an aerodynamic upgrade from the Dutch windmill HAWT’s in order to capture the winds energy as best as possible.  The turbine blades use an airfoil design, which looks allot like airplane wings: one surface is rounded and the other one is flat. These blades are being twisted fro the ideal aerodynamic lift to drag force ratio. With the aerodynamic turbine design engineers look for the most efficient blade size: generally longer blades catch more wind-energy. However in a lower-wind-speed-area smaller blades can capture more wind and are consistently running. Another important factor is tower height: the height the tower is the more wind it catches. 

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Modern wind mills from left to right: the VAWT and the HAWT

 

Their is good news for environmentalists there are tons of projects that focus on making wind turbines a practical solution for our energy needs. A handful of these are listed below:

  • MidAmerican Energy (USA) plans to install 1.000 wind-turbines for an estimated project costs over 3 billion dollar in the next year.
  • In the Netherlands Eneco has partnered up with NS Dutch railway company in order to make public train transportation run 100% on wind power. They hoped to achieve this millstone by 2018, but made it already possible on first of January 2017.
  • Also, MidAmerican Energy builds a 2.5 megawatt turbine at 379 foot. In the UK they made 8.0 megawatt turbines, which are 370 feet tall. Which means that in a 24 hour span circa 18 American-sized homes can be lighted for an entire year. With this invention MHI Vestas holds the world record for wind energy in 24 hours. As of now the company has commercial offers, such as delivering a 258 megawatt project that only needs 32 mills. 

In conclusion wind energy can compete with fossil fuels on the current market. Their prices are in the same range or are cheaper in more than 30 countries. And more innovation is being done to produce more wind power per turbine. It makes a profitable investment on a commercial and environment. 

Sources

  1. Frangoul, A.,China and US lead way with wind power installations, says global energy report, Internet, 13 February 2017 (cnbc.com)
  2. Griffin, A.,Solar and wind power cheaper than fossil fuels for the first time, Internet, 4 January 2017, (independent.co.uk)
  3. Kelly-Detwiler, P.,Giant Wind Turbines Now At Eight Megawatts, And Getting Larger, Internet,1 January 2017, (Forbes.com)
  4. Layton, J., How Wind Power Works, Internet, 9 August 2006, (HowStuffWorks.com)
  5. Lazard organization, Lazard’s levelized cost of energy analysis- version 10.0, PDF internet, December 2016, (Lazard.com)
  6. Maehlum, M.A. ,Wind Energy Pros and Cons, Internet, 23 March 2015,(energyinformative.org)
  7. Randall, T.,Wind and Solar Are Crushing Fossil Fuels, Internet, 6 April 2016,(Bloomberg.com)
  8. Rathi, P., Electricity Through Solar Power Now Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels, WEF Says In New Report, Internet, 27 December 2016,(ibtimes.com)
  9. SEAI (Sustainable energy authority of Ireland), Renewable Energy – Pros and Cons, Internet, consulted on 25 January 2017, (seai.ie)
  10. S. Department of Energy, HOW DO WIND TURBINES WORK?, Internet,  consulted on 25 January 2017 (energy.gov)
  11. Unknown, MidAmerican Energy to Install 1,000 Wind Turbines, Internet ,12 January 2017,(Whotv.com)
  12. Unknown, Renewable Infrastructure Investment Handbook: A Guide for Institutional Investors, PDF internet, December 2016, (weforum.org)
  13. Unknown, Scotland’s wind turbines cover all its electricity needs for a day, Internet, 11 August 2016, (Guardian.co.uk)
  14. Vanham, P., A Convenient Truth – Fighting Climate Change Turned Into a Profitable Business, Internet, 22 December 2016, (weforum.org)
  15. Woollaston, V.,100% of electric Dutch trains now run on wind power, Internet, 11 January 2017, (Wired.co.uk)
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