These days, renewable energy is a hot topic, as corporations and individuals search for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change.
One of the most promising forms of renewable energy is wind energy, which has been around for centuries but is now used to generate electricity. Wind is one of the most cost-effective renewable resources available and has the potential to change the entire energy landscape.
But how does wind power work? Is it as reliable as traditional power sources? Can wind energy for home be as powerful as other renewable resources like solar?
In this article, we will answer those questions and more, looking at how wind energy can be a beneficial alternative to fossil fuels.
What is Wind Energy?
Wind power is a form of solar energy. The sun heats up the earth and the air above it. When the hot air rises, cooler air fills the void left by the warmer air, resulting in a gust of wind.
Wind turbines take advantage of these gusts, which spin the blades of the turbine, just like a sailboat is pushed by the wind. The spinning blades cause the rotor to spin, which powers a generator, turning wind energy into electricity.
Windmills and turbines have been used for hundreds of years. However, the generators in modern wind turbines enable these simple machines to convert wind into electricity, just like solar power converts the sun’s heat into electricity for homes.
Modern wind turbines are designed to constantly reorient to be more directly in the wind’s path, ensuring that they take advantage of the strongest winds. The blades are positioned more than 100 feet above the ground to access faster winds, which tend to occur at higher altitudes.
Today, 8% of the energy generating capacity in the U.S. comes from wind turbines, which is more than any other renewable resource. And wind power has more than tripled over the past 10 years and will continue to grow in the years and decades to come.
The Evolution of Wind Power
Wind power was first developed way back in 200 B.C. and used commonly in Persia and China for pumping water and processing grain. The first modern wind turbine, however, was built in Vermont in the 1940s.
Today, there are wind turbines in over 38 states across the country, and wind energy accounts for more than a third of all new electricity generators in the U.S.
Most wind turbines stand over 300 feet tall, which is taller than the Statue of Liberty. Each blade is over 250 feet long, designed to capture the wind and convert it into residential wind power.
In 2014, the U.S. produced enough wind energy to power the equivalent of every home in Alaska, California, Delaware, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. combined. That amount was 25% more energy than was produced in the year 2000, and with new wind plants being installed each year, the level of U.S. wind energy generation continues to grow rapidly.
The Benefits of Wind Energy
Wind power is incredibly cost-effective, costing just 1 to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). It also uses space much more efficiently than solar power, which takes up significantly more land. Turbines, while tall, take up less space, and the empty areas between turbines can be put to other purposes, such as farming or ranching.
A single large turbine can power as many as 600 homes, making it a great renewable energy source today. Wind power also doesn’t pollute the air like the combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, and is an inexhaustible domestic power source that is now the largest source of renewable energy in the United States.
Distributed wind power can be used to set off a portion or all the onsite energy consumption at homes, businesses, and public facilities. This type of wind energy uses smaller—yet still powerful—turbines to help manage energy consumption and reduce costs for consumers.
In addition to the many environmental benefits of wind power, wind energy is also good for the economy, creating thousands of jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and support services.
The U.S. is home to over 500 wind turbine manufacturing plants across the country that employ over 73,000 people. And that’s just the beginning. It’s estimated that the wind industry has the potential to support more than 600,000 jobs by the year 2050.
Texas Wind Energy
Texas is the U.S. leader in wind energy,
In 2020, Texas installed more land-based wind capacity than any other state, not only making the state a little greener, but also giving a boost to the local economy with new jobs.
The Department of Energy estimated that almost $3 billion worth of wind energy equipment entered Texas during 2020, making it not just the national leader in wind power, but the top entry point for wind imports as well.
According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), Texas wind power provides electricity for millions of homes, with 24.8% of the state’s energy generated from wind, second only to natural gas at 51%.
The Challenges of Wind Energy
Any concerns about wind power pale in comparison to the many advantages, but there are some challenges to making wind a more common electricity source in the U.S.
The best sites for wind turbines tend to be in rural areas, which means that transmission lines must be built to bring the power into the cities that need it. Fortunately, this is not a cost-prohibitive project and the installation of just a few lines can make expanding the use of wind energy much more cost-effective.
Wind developers must also compete with other potential uses for the land, which may have more value than electricity generation.
Some people find the turbines to be an eyesore on the landscape and are concerned about the noise produced by the blades, but since wind turbines are most often installed in rural areas, this is less of a concern for most.
Finally, wind energy plants can impact the local wildlife by altering the habitats where they are built or posing a threat to flying animals like birds and bats. Fortunately, wind technology continues to develop and improve, and researchers are working to find ways to reduce the impact of wind turbines and plants on the surrounding environment.
Wind energy is an infinitely renewable resource that has the power to change how Texas and the U.S. produce electricity. As the number of wind turbines in the U.S. grows, so too does the nation’s capacity for wind energy, which can power millions of homes and provide a renewable resource that can help reduce pollution.