«But way off alone, out by himself beyond boat and shore, Jonathan Livingston Seagull was practising (…) he slowed until the wind was a whisper in his face, until the ocean stood still beneath him. (…) He was flying now straight down, at two hundred fourteen miles per hour. He swallowed, knowing that if his wings unfolded at that speed he’d be blown into a million tiny shreds of seagull. But the speed was power, and the speed was joy, and the speed was pure beauty.» (Richard Bach, Johnathan Livingston Seagull)
Have you ever imagine how it would be like to fly like a bird? What the sensation would be to glide peacefully on top of the world drifting away by the simple action of the wind?
The wind… This powerful force that gives birth to the mobile intemporality of the desert, for the forest, it carries at its heart the promise of a new life. It has shaped the dreams of mankind from Leonardo Da Vinci, the Wright brothers or Patrick de Gayardon, from the mechanic of bird flight to wind engineering, this force is not only powerful but it also became a source for power.
RENEWABLE ENERGY POST THREE: THE WIND
Harnessing the wind is one of the oldest methods of generating energy, propelling boats along the Nile in Egypt since 5000 B.C, pumping water with windmills in China from 200 B.C., or grinding grains in the Middle East since 900 B.C.
Wind is caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun. The radiations from the sun on the equator are greater than the radiations of the poles which creates a natural flow when the the cooler air of the poles sinks and the warmer air at the equator rises. The rotation of the earth makes this natural flow to curve over the surface instead of traveling in a straight line. Wind flow is then influenced by the variations in the earth’s surface, the bodies of water and vegetation cover, which creates uneven heat distribution.
Wind energy is therefore considered as a form of solar energy and refers to the process of creating a mechanical power or electricity from the wind.
Lets talk mechanic
With the arrival of electricity at the end of the nineteenth century, the first prototypes of modern wind turbines were built, inspired from classical windmills. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy (aka. the energy of motion) of the wind into mechanical power. A generator converts then this mechanical power into electricity using the turning motion of the shaft to rotate a rotor which has oppositely charge magnets and is surrounded by copper wire loops. Electromagnetic induction is created by the rotor spinning around the inside of the core, generating electricity.
Wind turbines are usually grouped together as a wind power plant or wind farm to produce electrical power. China, the US, Germany and India are the leader on the market followed closely by France, Turkey and the Netherlands. Wind power built another record in 2015 producing more than 63 Gigawatts and became the leading source of new power generating capacity in Europe and the US.
The Technology Race
It is now the second fastest-growing source of electricity in the world, with a global installed capacity of 487 megawatts in 2016. The wind industry has boomed in just a decade with the goal to reduce CO2 emissions and becoming more and more competitive.
Harvesting wind power is clean, non-polluting energy and inexhaustible. It is free !!! Same as for the sun, the wind doesn’t send the bill.
This boom has driven technical innovations and design development further, focusing on increasing efficiency and lowering the costs. It has become one of the lowest-cost renewable energy where power prices dropped to on average 2 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2015 for the US.
The new generation of wind turbines are taller, have longer blades, capture more wind and therefore produce more power due to the fact that wind speeds increase significantly with altitude. By covering a greater area, they collect more wind flow and tend to be stronger and steadier higher above the ground.
It is not just on land that turbines can capture the wind, the ocean provides a reliable and consistent source of wind that we can turn into electricity. Offshore wind farms have developed with fixed foundation farms but also floating structures for deeper water offshore farms.
The advantages is that the wind is much stronger off the coasts, offshore breezes can be strong in the afternoon unlike the wind on land, offshore wind speed tends to be steadier and it has a smaller negative impact on aesthetics of the landscape.
Further technological advances need to be done to be economically viable, offshore wind energy farms have high construction costs and the waves action, cyclones and heavy storms remains important issues for the longevity of the turbines.
A feel-good story: The wind power Pioneer
Once upon a time the smallest Nordic country decided to make the most of its incredible wind speed availability. It went from 92% of it electricity powered by fossil fuel to over 60% renewably powered today, in just 40 years. It aims to reach 100% renewable electricity by 2030 and 100% for all sectors by 2050. The capital aims to be carbon neutral by 2025 by using more bikes than cars (The number of bicycles already exceeds the number of cars).
It was the first country in the world to build massive offshore wind farms when in 1991 it installed a 5MW wind farm 2 km from the coast.
In 2015, wind power supplied 42% of domestic electricity consumption. The 5 offshore wind farms and more than 300 onshore wind turbines brought to this country the total capacity of 5070 MW in 2016.
On an usually windy day, this country managed to produce 140% of its national electricity needs and exported power to Norway, German and Sweden…
And finally, this small country with high renewable energy objectives built the Goliath of wind turbines. This V164 offshore turbines is 220 m tall and made the world record (216,000 kWh) for the most energy generated by a single turbine in 24h… If you want to see how impressive this is, click here.
Have you figured yet which country I am talking about …?
The father of the famous Lego, Lurpark butter, homeland of the well-known writer Hans Christian Andersen whose tales probably rocked your childhood, the vikings…
YES!!! DENMARK is the winner!!!
Winner for mastering wind power and winner in making the general public engaged with this project. Denmark managed to integrate a large numbers of shares in renewable energy. Danish can purchase a turbine outright or purchase shares in wind turbine cooperatives which invest in community wind turbines. To this date about 20000 people have shares which provides in return important revenue to the families.
Another great story of success, where the combination of new technologies, accessible resources, and engagement can create the model for a better future.
« We can lift ourselves out of ignorance, we can find ourselves as creatures of excellence and intelligence and skill. We can be free! We can learn to fly! » (Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull)
Stay tuned for the next post, you might learn why meat eaters have a less pleasant body odor than vegetarians…
Illustration and top photo from the author of this blog.
Karimirad, M. (2014). Offshore Energy Structures. Springer International Publishing. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-12175-8
Ksudiram, S. (2008). The Earth’s Atmosphere. Springer Berlin Heidelberg. doi: 10.1007/978-3-540-78427-2
Möller, B. (2011). Continuous spatial modelling to analyse planning and economic consequences of offshore wind energy. Energy Policy, 39(2), 511-517. doi: 10.1016/j.enpol.2010.10.031