Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of the wind into a useful form (electricity) for power production. Large wind turbines; specifically arrays of large wind turbines – onshore wind farms, along with utility-scale PV, are now the least expensive forms of energy. Among energy sources used to power a municipal grid, wind farms have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions, and the lowest carbon footprint, of any energy source renewable or non-renewable, once the wind farm is fully constructed and operational. Additionally, small wind turbines are used to power RVs, industrial grade batteries, large industrial appliances; or provide auxiliary power for small businesses, homes, and farms.
Technological breakthroughs in wind
Recently, there have been many breakthroughs in wind turbine technology that continue to increase the energy efficiency and lower the costs of this renewable energy source. Advancements in wind turbine blade design are continually being developed to increase flow and decrease drag. R&D, as well as commercial application, is being done with strong, light, corrosion-resistant composite materials for blade, tower, and foundation structures.
Wind turbines are also increasing in size and capacity. GE recently unveiled a 12 MW offshore wind turbine – the Haliade-X – which is being developed for use in new European offshore wind farm projects, as well as the Ocean Wind Farm off the east coast of the US, and other offshore wind farms. In addition, the latest trends in global wind technology include smart industrial networks using wind, augmenting wind power with energy storage, and moving wind farms offshore.
Improving the technological management of wind farms, industrial smart systems send data to wind farm operators through a wi-fi network; predicting wind strength and optimal position for turbines based on the forecasted wind speed and direction. One breakthrough in wind turbines has lasers pinpointing the direction of wind, so that turbine blades can optimize their productive capacity by automatically adjusting their position. Also helping to improve the effectiveness of wind farms, energy storage technologies coupled with wind farms store excess electricity when more energy is produced by the wind than what is needed; and feeds it back into the grid when the wind slows down or stops blowing.
The nations that have achieved the most success with wind power, as far as wind representing a major source of energy production for the entire country, are all European nations. Denmark, Portugal, the UK, Ireland, and Germany, are global leaders in wind farms producing a large share of their countries’ energy needs; in no small part due to their national investment in offshore wind farms. The UK uses energy from wind farms for 20% of the UK’s electricity needs; while Germany, Ireland, and Portugal, all have wind powering over 25% of these countries’ grids; and Denmark is at 40%. Scotland was the first country in the world to power 100% of their country’s electricity for a day with wind energy alone.
Wind farms have seen success outside of Europe, as well. In the U.S., installation of new capacity for energy generation has seen wind farm energy finally outpacing that of natural gas. In Europe, new wind has been the leading source of new energy capacity installed for many years, especially because Europe has embraced offshore wind farms. Over 100 nations around the world are now using wind energy as an energy source for their countries. However, wind energy still only accounts for a little over 5% of overall global electricity generation – a statistic that will grow quickly as more global wind farm capacity is added.
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