A wind farm consists of several windmills, technically called wind turbines, that are arrayed in a grid-like fashion and use the motion of wind to generate electricity safely. Wind farms are very popular in countries like the U.S. and Europe; these countries are actively looking into alternative energy sources. Asia and India are also joining the wind farm craze as other countries look for clean energy sources. Wind farms are considered a renewable energy source, similar to wave power and solar energy. Since wind farms use the wind to power turbines, they have become very popular green energy sources because they do not use up any fossil fuels to safely generate energy in the form of electricity. They do require some maintenance; they are not stand-alone structures. The energy developed by these turbines is fed back to the energy grid after going through transformers.
Wind farms are usually placed in very windy locations on unpopulated, infertile tracts of land. They can also be located offshore. The world’s largest offshore wind farms are located in Europe, primarily in Denmark and the United Kingdom. For the most part, the technology is environmentally acceptable and fiscally positive; thousands of jobs have been created in the production, placement and maintenance of turbines.
The U.S. wind energy market is growing very quickly. The power of wind is helping the U.S. to achieve a balanced energy mix as non-renewable forms of energy are slowly depleting, such as gas and oil. Siemens, a Germany-based corporation with a wind technology branch, is working diligently to help the U.S. achieve this energy mix. Today, they have installed over 5,000 wind turbines in 12 states, including Hawaii. In the very near future, Siemens will install 448 turbines in various Iowa locations, helping to generate power for more than 300,000 Iowan residents.
Currently, there are 900 independent wind farm projects being completed safely by Siemens to harness wind energy in 39 states, including Puerto Rico. Presently, there are over 500,000 wind farm and other wind-related jobs in the U.S., throughout 35 manufacturing facilities. In 2013, enough energy was generated with the use of wind turbines on wind farms to safely power 15.5 million homes.
Wind technology and ways to harness the wind are continually evolving. The wind, as a source of generating energy, is not a new concept. Mill technology originated in China, and by the end of the 13th century, there were more than 12,000 mills using water as the energy source. By the 19th century, there were more than 10,000 mills in Europe used to tap the energy of the wind.
Around 1900 or just prior, 8 million windmills generated electricity with water or were used to crush grain, primarily in the Midwestern region of the U.S. By 1900, almost every homesteader had their own windmill. The mill industry had invested around $4.3 million in the production of windmills. This shows that while wind energy is nothing new, the technology has come a long way.
The future of wind technology also looks promising. Turbine blade design and ways to increase efficiency are being looked at presently. In the near future, one might look up in the sky and see self-supporting high-altitude wind turbines turning at lightning-fast speeds. A New Hampshire-based company recently patented a bladeless wind turbine, the Fuller Wind Turbine, based on a 1913 Tesla patent. Norwegian scientists are in the process of creating the largest turbine in the world at 533 feet tall, which has the capability of floating. There is also a portable wind turbine on the market, the Rose Wind Turbine, small enough to fit into the trunk of a car. Another company, Flo Design, manufactures a turbine based on a jet engine design. General Electric (GE) recently bought Scanwind, a company that makes offshore direct drive turbine components. This will provide people with thousands of new jobs in the near future.
Wind farms, manufacturers and the engineers that build them try hard to produce wind energy safely. However, wind farms are not foolproof. There are several safety measures in place to construct turbines properly. Some windmills have automatic fire extinguishers installed to prevent fires. Older turbines can become ice hazards while newer ones automatically shut down by detecting ice buildup and excess vibrations. Offshore turbines have been responsible for some seabird deaths, although there is no way to help prevent a seabird from hitting a spinning turbine. Of course, this applies to land birds or bats as well. There is even a possibility that turbines may have altered underwater habitats and other behaviors due to their location, but evidence is not conclusive. Wind energy is currently one of the safest renewable energy sources available.
By Dennis De Rose