A windmill lazily spinning in the breeze may give the impression that wind alone is responsible for making wind power generators work.
In reality the energy harnessed in this way is a converted form of solar energy.
The ultimate form of this energy chain is wind energy but the sun’s radiation causes the wind.
The sun heats different parts of the earth at different times (day and night). Different surfaces absorb and reflect the sun’s radiation at different rates.
This in turn causes the earth’s atmosphere (the air) to warm unevenly.
Hot air rises, creating a vacuum below it.
As we know, nature abhors a vacuum, so cooler air rushes in to replace it.
That rush of air we term wind, and that wind has the property of kinetic energy which can in turn be converted into other forms of energy, such as electricity.
There is plenty of wind about but humankind has hardly made a dent in its potential as a generator of energy for practical purposes. Until the twentieth century wind power was used mainly to power water pumps, mills, saws and sailboats, but not until the twentieth century was it used to create salable raw electricity by means of wind power generators designed specifically for this purpose.
The first time modern seriously considered wind power as a viable alternative to the conventional means of energy production was in the 1970s when petroleum shortages forced economists and technologists to investigate other forms of power generation. The environmentally-aware nineties and the awareness that the damage fossil fuels are causing to the earth gave further impetus to the movement to wind power. Wind is a free fuel but just as importantly it is a clean fuel. No air or water pollution results from the operation of a wind farm, because wind power generators burn no fuel.
Yet wind farms, as large collections of these modern windmills are termed, are still a comparative rarity. By 2005 wind machines in the United States, the world’s third largest producer of wind power (the first two are Spain and Germany) generated only 0.4 percent of the nation’s total electricity in just over half of the country’s states.
Even so the growth in this type of power production increased an impressive threefold in the US between 1998 and 2005. New technologies that decrease the cost of producing electricity from wind, tax incentives for renewable energy and green pricing programs by utilities that allow customers to pay more for electricity from alternative power sources are factors accelerating the growth of wind power production.
It seems too good to be true: free clean power and a limitless renewable supply. There are drawbacks but they definitely do not outweigh the advantages. Environmentalists claim that wind power generators have an effect on wild bird populations. The aesthetically inclined complain about the visual impact of wind farms on the landscape.
The truth of the beauty of wind power generators is in the eye of the beholder
Some may see the swirling blades of windmills on a hilltop as an eyesore. I see them as a beautiful alternative to conventional power plants, which are far from beautiful, and immeasurably more appealing that the very idea of a nuclear power station.The Wind Energy Industry is Nothing New