Wind Power

Driving along a motorway, you might see wind turbines in the distance converting the day's breeze into electricity. Whether you consider them majestic pieces of architecture or ugly blots on the landscape, there's no arguing their importance. Harnessing the energy from wind is essential to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and the UK is the world's number one for wind power.

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Table of contents

    Wind Power: Definition

    Let's start off with the definition of wind power.

    Wind power is power obtained by harnessing the energy of the wind.

    The energy of the wind is harnessed using a structure called a wind turbine. These turbines convert kinetic wind energy into electrical energy. Wind turbines are often found in hilly areas, coastal regions and offshore.

    Wind Power upland areas wind turbines StudySmarterUpland areas experience strong winds, making them good locations for wind turbines. Unsplash

    How Do Wind Turbines Harness Wind Energy?

    Wind blowing into a turbine moves the blades, causing the rotor to spin. This rotor is connected to a generator, which converts the kinetic energy of the rotor into electricity.

    A turbine is a series of blades mounted on a rotor shaft.

    Wind Power Technologies

    Most wind turbines fall into one of two categories.

    Horizontal-Axis Wind Turbines (HAWTs): horizontal-axis turbines are your 'traditional' wind turbines: a tall tower with a three-bladed turbine at the top. These turbines operate upwind (with the blades facing into the wind). The majority of wind power is generated using horizontal-axis turbines.

    Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines (VAWTs): vertical-axis turbines are less recognisable than their horizontal-axis counterparts. They are omnidirectional, so they don't need to be adjusted according to wind direction.

    There are two main types of vertical-axis wind turbines: Savonius and Darrenius.

    Savonius turbines use the principle of drag to convert wind energy into electricity. The blades function like a scoop, trapping the wind that enters the turbine. This creates drag and forces the turbine to rotate. Savonius turbines are not particularly efficient; they can only convert 15% of the available wind energy.

    In contrast, Darrenius turbines use the principle of lift to convert wind energy into electricity. The blades can be straight, curved or helical. Turbines with helical blades capture more wind energy and increase efficiency.

    TurbinesAdvantagesDisadvantagesMost Suited For
    Horizontal-Axis Wind Turbines
    • Can produce more electricity from a given amount of wind
    • Heavy
    • Do not function well in turbulent winds
    • Large-scale wind power projects
    • Rural areas
    • Offshore
    Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines
    • Can produce electricity from all wind directions
    • Can function in turbulent winds
    • Less efficient at generating electricity.
    • Small-scale wind power projects
    • Residential areas
    • Regions with inconsistent wind conditions

    Wind-Assisted Ships

    A few hundred years ago, ships (and thus, world trade) were entirely dependent on wind propulsion. The invention of the steam engine revolutionised transport. But today, ships are returning to their roots in the quest to cut carbon emissions.

    Engineers have developed rotor sails, which work via the Magnus effect. They have the potential to cut fuel consumption by up to 20%.

    The Magnus Effect: a rotating cylinder creates a lift force when it encounters airflow from wind.

    However, creating wind propulsion systems presents a few challenges. Rotor sails are expensive, and take up large amounts of space on deck. Furthermore, commercial ships cannot rely on wind propulsion alone.

    Wind Power Advantages

    Clean, Renewable Energy: generating electricity from wind power does not release greenhouse gases or other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. Winds will never stop blowing, so their energy can always be harnessed.

    Cost-effective: the electricity produced by wind turbines is one of the cheapest energy sources available. Additionally, wind is free, so electricity prices aren't subject to changes in fuel costs.

    Jobs: the manufacturing, installation, and running the supporting services for wind turbines create numerous jobs.

    The wind power industry in the U.S. supports 100,000 jobs.

    Low Maintenance: once constructed, wind turbines rarely need maintenance.

    Efficient: wind farms operate at a high efficiency, converting up to 50% of wind energy into electricity. This doesn't sound very impressive, but it's not far off the maximum theoretical level of 59% efficiency.

    Wind Power Disadvantages

    Reliability: wind isn't reliable. There won't be much electricity generated on a calm day!

    Noise and Visual Pollution: turbine blades are often noisy, impacting residents and wildlife. Some people consider wind turbines an eyesore, ruining the natural landscape.

    Wildlife: birds and bats have been killed by flying into turbine blades.

    Developers seeking planning permission to build a wind farm in the UK must carry out ecological surveys before beginning construction.

    Wind Power in the UK

    The UK is putting its blustery weather to good use and stepping to the forefront of wind power generation.

    The UK is the windiest country in Europe, making it the ideal location for wind power generation.

    Since 2009, electricity generation from wind power has increased by an astounding 715%. In 2020, wind energy alone accounted for 24% of total electricity generation (including electricity generated using fossil fuels!)

    Just 20,000 people live in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. However, these tiny islands are home to over 500 wind turbines – including a commercial wind farm and many domestic-scale turbines. As a result, the Orkney Islands can produce over 100% of their energy requirements using renewable sources. Surplus electricity is sold to the UK grid, which is connected to the Orkney Islands by underwater cables.

    Offshore Wind Farms

    The UK has more offshore wind farms than any other nation, and boasts the world's largest wind farm off the coast of Yorkshire. Hornsea One is home to 174 turbines, with a generation capacity of 1218 MW (megawatts).

    Wind Power offshore wind farm norfolk StudySmarterThe UK has 227 wind farm projects. This photograph shows Race Bank Offshore Wind Farm, 27 kilometres from the Norfolk coastline. Unsplash

    Fun Facts About Wind Power

    • Just one rotation of a wind turbine can power the average UK household for an entire day.

    • The average offshore wind turbine is 129 metres tall.

    • If you're a fan of wind turbines, you'll love Logie Wind Farm in Scotland. Its circular route through the wind farm is suitable for hikers, cyclists, and even horses.

    • Wind power has been in use for thousands of years. Windmills harnessed the power of the wind to grind grain into flour.

    • Global Wind Day takes place annually on the 15th of June. Make sure to add that to your calendar!

    I hope that this article has explained wind power for you. It's a clean and cost-effective source of energy, but it can be unreliable and impact wildlife. The UK obtains almost a quarter of its electricity through wind power, and has more offshore wind farms than any other country.

    Wind Power - Key takeaways

    • Wind power is obtained by harnessing the energy of the wind. Turbines are used to convert the wind's kinetic energy into electrical energy.
    • There are two types of wind turbines. Horizontal-axis wind turbines are large structures with the capability to generate lots of electricity. Vertical-axis wind turbines generate less electricity, but can convert wind energy from all directions.
    • Wind power has many advantages, including clean energy, cost-effectiveness, job creation, low-maintenance requirements and high efficiency.
    • Disadvantages of wind power include unreliability, noise and aesthetic pollution, and harm to wildlife.
    • The UK obtains 24% of its electricity from wind power. The nation is also home to the most offshore wind farms, and the largest wind farm in the world, Hornsea One.

    1. BP, UK offshore wind explainer, 2022

    2. Enel Green Power, All the benefits of wind power, 2022

    3. Energy.Gov, Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy, 2022

    4. Gemma N. Thomas, Wind energy in the UK: June 2021, Office for National Statistics, 2021

    5. Solar Impulse Foundation, Rotor Sails, 2022

    6. 4C Offshore, Offshore Wind Farms in the United Kingdom, 2022

    Frequently Asked Questions about Wind Power

    What is wind power?

    Wind power is power obtained by harnessing the energy of the wind.

    How much of the UK's electricity comes from wind power?

    Wind power provides 24% of the UK's electricity.

    How does wind power make electricity?

    Wind blows into a turbine, which moves the blades and causes the turbine's rotor to spin. The rotor is connected to a generator that converts the kinetic energy of the rotor into electricity.

    What are the three advantages of wind power?

    Wind power is a clean and renewable source of energy, it's cost-effective, and it's an efficient, low-maintenance form of energy generation.

    What is a major disadvantage of wind power?

    Wind is unreliable, so electricity generation depends on the weather.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    China has more offshore wind farms than any other country.

    Which type of turbine face into the wind?

    What are some disadvantages of horizontal-axis wind turbines?


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