Wind is becoming an increasingly important source of energy, with turbines becoming bigger, taller and more efficient. Today, wind power contributes to seven per cent of the world’s electricity. So what are the latest trends in wind energy development?
Then and now
Historically, windmills pumped water, milled grain, sawed wood and propelled sailing ships to their destinations. By the 19th century, there were hundreds of thousands of windmills in Europe. The Dutch, for example, used windmills mainly to drain marshes. Today, wind power is a key source of clean electricity and plays a key role in meeting climate change targets.
Wind beats coal
Wind turbines often produce the cheapest energy. Today, electricity from new coal or nuclear power plants can cost two to three times more than wind power. The cheapest energy comes from onshore wind. It’s predicted that by 2030, in areas with optimal wind conditions, energy costs will fall further to 0.03 euros ($0.04) per kilowatt hour (kWh).
20 times more electricity
A giant wind turbine near Wilhelmshaven in northern Germany produces 6,000 kilowatts, enough to power 10,000 people. By comparison, models from 25 years ago produced only up to 500 kilowatts, enough for about 500 people. Modern turbines, which are up to 180 metres tall, can capture more wind than their shorter predecessors.
Giants at sea
Because wind power at sea is consistently high, offshore wind farms are one of the most promising types of wind farm. At present, around 5% of the world’s wind energy comes from offshore wind farms, such as those off the Dutch coast. These turbines can generate up to 10,000 kilowatts. From 2025, their capacity is expected to rise to 15,000 kilowatts, enough to meet the electricity needs of more than 40,000 people.
China leads the way
Half of the world’s new wind turbines are currently being installed in China. In 2020 alone, China will install 52 gigawatts of new capacity, equivalent to the output of 50 nuclear power plants. Denmark and Germany are at the forefront of wind energy development. While Denmark gets almost 50% of its electricity from wind, Germany gets 25%.
More jobs thanks to wind energy
Worldwide, the wind energy sector employs around 1.3 million people. This includes 550,000 in China, 110,000 in the US, 90,000 in Germany, 45,000 in India and 40,000 in Brazil. Although wind turbines are more expensive to install and operate than coal-fired power plants, their expansion is creating more jobs.
Citizens want to make a profit
In densely populated areas, wind power can sometimes meet with resistance. But as local people become financially involved in community projects, attitudes are changing. In Starkenburg, near Frankfurt in Germany, for example, many residents support the expansion of wind power because they invest their own money and see direct profits from electricity sales.
Sails save diesel
Sailing ships once transported goods around the world, but were later replaced by diesel engines. But with advances in technology, modern sails are making a comeback in the shipping industry. The addition of wind propulsion can reduce a cargo ship’s energy consumption by up to 30%. In the foreseeable future, ships may also be able to use environmentally friendly hydrogen as a fuel.
Floating wind farms
While there’s plenty of space for wind power at sea, many locations are too deep for traditional foundations. In these situations, floating turbines anchored to the seabed by long chains are a viable alternative. Such floating wind farms already exist in Europe and Japan, and are proving resilient even during storms.
Wind power for homes
London’s 147-metre-high Strata SE1 skyscraper is notable for its futuristic wind turbines. However, these rooftop installations often don’t provide a viable return on investment because city winds are typically weak. Rooftop solar PV is a more efficient solution.
The cleanest energy
Wind turbines pay for themselves within 3-11 months, and produce no CO2 emissions while generating electricity. The main tangible drawback is that they change the landscape. However, compared to other energy sources, they have the best environmental balance. According to the German Federal Environment Agency, their environmental footprint is 70 times smaller than that of coal-fired power stations.
Where can wind power be used?
Combined, wind and solar power plants have the potential to meet the world’s energy needs. Wind turbines work best at wind speeds of 10 km/h or more. In sunny regions, photovoltaics are emerging as the most affordable source of energy. Near the equator, a combination of wind and solar power is common. In exceptionally windy areas, wind power can become the primary source of energy.
It all started with windmills and sailing ships, and now the construction of modern wind farms is on the rise. Current trends indicate that in the foreseeable future, humanity will rely exponentially on wind energy for a climate-neutral transition.
Source Deutsche Welle