Wind Is Simply Air In Motion
Wind Is Simply Air In Motion
Wind is simply air in motion. It is caused by the uneven heating of the earth’s surface by the sun. Since the earth’s surface is made of very different types of land and water, it absorbs the sun’s heat at different rates.
During the day, the air above the land heats up more quickly than the air over water. The warm air over the land expands and rises, and the heavier, cooler air rushes in to take its place, creating winds. At night, the winds are reversed because the air cools more rapidly over land than over water.
In the same way, the large atmospheric winds that circle the earth are created because the land near the earth’s equator is heated more by the sun than the land near the North and South Poles.
Today, wind energy is mainly used to generate electricity. Wind is called a renewable energy source because the wind will blow as long as the sun shines.
The History of Wind
Since ancient times, people have harnessed the wind’s energy. Over 5,000 years ago, the ancient Egyptians used wind to sail ships on the Nile River. Later, people built windmills to grind wheat and other grains. The earliest known windmills were in Persia (Iran). These early windmills looked like large paddle wheels. Centuries later, the people of Holland improved the basic design of the windmill. They gave it propeller-type blades, still made with sails. Holland is famous for its windmills.
American colonists used windmills to grind wheat and corn, to pump water, and to cut wood at sawmills. As late as the 1920s, Americans used small windmills to generate electricity in rural areas without electric service. When power lines began to transport electricity to rural areas in the 1930s, local windmills were used less and less, though they can still be seen on some Western ranches.
The oil shortages of the 1970s changed the energy picture for the country and the world. It created an interest in alternative energy sources, paving the way for the re-entry of the windmill to generate electricity. In the early 1980s wind energy really took off in California , partly because of state policies that encouraged renewable energy sources. Support for wind development has since spread to other states, but California still produces more than twice as much wind energy as any other state.
Wind Power Plants
Wind power plants, or wind farms as they are sometimes called, are clusters of wind machines used to produce electricity. A wind farm usually has dozens of wind machines scattered over a large area. The world’s largest wind farm, the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Texas, has 421 wind turbines that generate enough electricity to power 220,000 homes per year.
Unlike power plants, many wind plants are not owned by public utility companies. Instead they are owned and operated by business people who sell the electricity produced on the wind farm to electric utilities. These private companies are known as Independent Power Producers.
Operating a wind power plant is not as simple as just building a windmill in a windy place. Wind plant owners must carefully plan where to locate their machines. One important thing to consider is how fast and how much the wind blows.
As a rule, wind speed increases with altitude and over open areas with no windbreaks. Good sites for wind plants are the tops of smooth, rounded hills, open plains or shorelines, and mountain gaps that produce wind funneling.
Wind speed varies throughout the country. It also varies from season to season. In Tehachapi, California, the wind blows more from April through October than it does in the winter. This is because of the extreme heating of the Mojave Desert during the summer months. The hot air over the desert rises, and the cooler, denser air above the Pacific Ocean rushes through the Tehachapi mountain pass to take its place. In a state like Montana, on the other hand, the wind blows more during the winter. Fortunately, these seasonal variations are a good match for the electricity demands of the regions. In California, people use more electricity during the summer for air conditioners. In Montana, people use more electricity during the winter months for heating.
In 2006, wind machines in the United States generated a total of 26.6 billion kWh per year of electricity, enough to serve more than 2.4 million households. This is enough electricity to power a city larger than Los Angeles, but it is only a small fraction of the nation’s total electricity production, about 0.4 percent. The amount of electricity generated from wind has been growing fast in recent years. In 2006, electricity generated from wind was 2 1/2 times more than wind generation in 2002.
New technologies have decreased the cost of producing electricity from wind, and growth in wind power has been encouraged by tax breaks for renewable energy and green pricing programs. Many utilities around the country offer green pricing options that allow customers the choice to pay more for electricity that comes from renewable sources.
Wind machines generated electricity in 28 different states in 2006. The states with the most wind production are Texas, California, Iowa, Minnesota, and Oklahoma.
Most of the wind power plants in the world are located in Europe and in the United States where government programs have helped support wind power development. The United States ranks second in the world in wind power capacity, behind Germany and ahead of Spain and India . Denmark ranks number six in the world in wind power capacity but generates 20 percent of its electricity from wind.