Great opportunities for large-scale energy savings
Our findings show that there exist great opportunities for large-scale energy savings through wind power, especially in areas with stronger and steadier wind, for example high altitude and offshore locations. More specifically, this work has explored use of wind power as a potential way of meeting massive energy savings through conversion of naturally replenished wind resources into energy intensive source of low cost and clean electric power. Increased large-scale use of wind power has resulted into significant energy efficiency, energy security, economic benefits, and climate change control. As such, there is a solid backing for advancing wind energy source across the world, thus wind power has increasingly been used away from its traditional application areas in USA and Europe. Energy is a crucial element of our daily lives, and large-scale wind energy projects offer a suitable alternative to the increasingly depleted oil and gas reservoirs. It can be summed up that wind power significantly contributes to energy efficiencies.
The demand for oil and gas has considerably increased across the globe over the recent years, a trend that has decreased its availability and made it difficult for application of primary and secondary extraction techniques. Most reservoirs have significantly reduced pressure levels upon successful application of the primary and secondary extraction methods. Luckily, innovative tertiary extraction methods have been devised in attempts to revive the ageing oil and gas by increasing their overall production life. This implies that there is need to seek alternative ways of generating energy in a manner that upholds tangible efficiencies and/or savings. To achieve energy security and sustainability goals, large-scale and innovative renewable energy methods should be developed on a considerable scale (Owen, Inderwildi & King 2010).
The considerable amount of energy used by the wide array of home, office, transport and industrial appliances have been a noteworthy concern in our current world (REN21 2014). The ever growing demand for electricity leads public and private utilities to seek new and more efficient methods of generating electric power. Therefore, there is need to implement innovative approaches geared towards large-scale energy savings. This work seeks to critically analyze an approach of achieving large-scale energy efficiencies or other resource savings, for example, water, wind, biomass and solar. However, this work focuses on large-scale application of wind power as an alternative electricity generation approach
Typically, renewable energy involves energy derived from naturally replaceable resources, for example, sunlight, water, and wind. It is a perfect alternative to conventional fuels, in four particular fields: electric power generation, motor or engine powers, off-grid energy services, and hot water or space heating (REN21 2011). According to REN21 (2014), renewables accounted for 22% and 19% to electricity generation and energy consumption in 2013 respectively. Globally, both, advanced renewable energy, for example, hydro, solar, wind, and biofuels, and additionally conventional biomass, delivered in about equivalent amounts to the energy supply. Geographically, renewable energy resources are widely spread as opposed to other modern energy sources that are concentrated in few countries (Johnston 2012). Therefore, renewable resources are a vital energy source, which can help realize unparalleled energy efficiencies across the world.
Wind energy has been in use for about two millennia, especially in wind-powered equipment for grounding grain and pumping water (United Press International 2012). As a matter of fact, wind power is generally accessible since it is not confined to a location, implying that it is a globally available resource. The development of electricity saw wind power discover new areas of application, such as lighting buildings from remotely generated power. According to Neslen (2014), the 20th century saw development of parallel ways as people realized the importance of wind stations to run steam engines for farming, and later large-scale utility wind generators for remote powering of electricity grids. Today, wind-powered generators work in all sizes from small stations, for example, battery charging in remote or rural areas to gigawatt-sized offshore wind projects that produce electrical power to serve national territories (REN21 2014).
Mainstream wind power technology
Wind currents have been applied in running large-scale wind turbines in a number of projects across the world. Currently, wind turbines covering utility-scale applications range from approximately 600 kilowatts (kW) to 5 megawatts (mW) of appraised electric power. However, turbines that have 1.5–3 mW in rated output are the most widely used for commercial purposes. The power that can be derived from wind is an element of its cube speed, thus as speed builds, the power yielded increases to the optimal or maximum yield for the specific turbine. Areas with stronger and increasingly constant winds, for example, high altitude and offshore regions, are the most suited locations for implementing wind farms. Typically, limit components are 20-40%, whereby the upper end of the reach in especially good sites (REN21 2011).
Globally, it is believed that the long-term capability of wind power is about 5 times aggregate current energy generation, and 40 times today’s electric power demand, provided that all barriers were successfully overcome (Nicola & Vincenzo 2011). According to REN21 (2014), this requires installation of wind turbines over extensive regions, especially in locations with more wind resources as these areas have wind speeds with close to 90% more compared to normal land. Therefore, high altitudes and offshore areas can contribute significantly more wind energy than turbines stationed on the land.
The impact of variations in wind consistency
What would be the effect of wind inconsistency to an electric grid that relying on wind power? Neslen (2014) argues that wind power is exceptionally consistent from one year to another, but has huge variations over shorter time-scales. This necessitates use of wind in conjunction with some other energy sources to provide a dependable supply. If wind power in an area increases, there is need to redesign the electric grid to allow for more production. According to Nicola & Vincenzo (2011), there are different power management tools and techniques, including provisioning to handle excess capacity, dispatch able support sources, adequate hydroelectric power, outsourcing and selling power to nearby grids, utilizing vehicle-to-grid systems, decreasing power demand as wind production decreases, and geographically distributing available turbines. These techniques play a vital role in overcoming wind availability and speed problems. Moreover, weather forecasting allows stakeholders to be prepared for probable variations in wind production.
Global wind power trends
Worldwide, there are currently more than 200,000 operating wind turbines, with an aggregate nameplate limit of 282,482 mW by the end of 2012. In September 2012, the European Union (EU) alone passed approximately 100,000 mW in nameplate capacity (United Press International 2012). On the other hand, in August 2012, the United States exceeded 50,000 mW. Global wind production capacity increased by almost 4 times from 2000 to 2006. The US spearheaded wind farms, driving other countries in introducing the installed capacity from the 1980s. Germany is also a key player in installation of wind farms, which China is rapidly expanding in the area in the 2000s (REN21 2011). By 2011, there were 83 countries across the world using wind energy commercially (Johnston 2012).
Wind farms have reached electric grid parity in a number of areas in Europe and U.S. in the 2000s. Decreased costs of wind power drive the desire to implement wind farms (Neslen 2014). While wind farms are capital intensive to implement, fuel costs are eliminated.
Wind energy is produced from wind currents using turbines or wind sails which create mechanical and electrical power. For example, windmills are typically used because of their mechanical capacity, while wind pumps are used to pump water, and sails for propelling ships. As an alternative to the widely used fossil fuels, Fthenakis & Kim (2009) argues that wind power is plentiful, clean, and renewable, broadly distributed, creates no carbon footprint, and uses relatively less land. Neslen (2014) argues that the net environmental and natural resource impact for wind energy is less risky than that from non-renewable energy sources.
When compared with fossil fuels, wind power produces the lowest climate change impact, including global warming. However, wind turbines have been criticized for generating noise pollution. Aesthetically, wind turbines create a good visual landscape coupled with heritage and scenic regions (Millborrow 2010).
Large-scale wind farms
China’s Gansu Wind Farm and UK’s Whitelee Wind Farm are examples of large-scale onshore wind farms with a current capacity of 6,000 mW and 539 mW respectively (Watts 2012; Whitelee Wind Farm n.d.). A wind farm incorporates a collection of wind turbines implemented in the same area used for electric power production. Large-scale wind farms consist of several hundreds and thousands of wind turbines that are installed over a distributed area. The land that rest between turbines can be used for other purposes such as agriculture. All huge wind turbines are designed in a similar manner. Each turbine is connected to a medium voltage – typically 34.5 kV, and a power accumulation and communication networks. At substations, the medium voltage electric current is boosted in voltage using a transformer to connect to the high-voltage electricity transmission system (Nicola & Vincenzo 2011).
Large-scale wind farms normally comprise of several wind turbines and associated equipment connected to specific electricity transmission network. The worlds’ biggest wind farm is the Gansu Wind Farm, which consists of thousands of wind turbines. Millborrow (2010) suggests that onshore wind resource provides an economical source of electric power, competitive and cheaper than fossil, gas or coal fuel production plants. Despite the fact that offshore areas have the best suit wind strength and steadiness; farms situated in these regions may attract considerably higher construction and general maintenance costs. Therefore, it is important to consider onshore wind farm projects as they are easier to implement and they can provide grid electricity to remote regions.
By 2014, offshore wind plants accounted for 8,771 mW of the globally installed capacity. The UK is the leader in installation of offshore electric power with almost half of the global installed capacity (REN21 2014).
Case study: Whitelee Wind Farm
Whitelee Wind Farm is the biggest onshore wind farm in the UK. It has an aggregate capacity of 539 mW of electric power, which can adequately power approximately 300,000 homes, and delivered by 215 wind turbines. By 2011, the Scottish government had an objective of producing 31% of its electric power from renewable energy. The overall target is to fully switch to renewable energy sources by 2020. Most strikingly, the larger part of this is expected to be derived from wind energy. According to the official Whitelee Wind Farm website, stakeholders have harnessed the power of wind over hundreds of years for its cleanliness that attracts a significantly low cost (Whitelee Wind Farm n.d.).
How does Whitelee Wind Farm survive unsteady wind currents? The site was specifically chosen for its windy characteristic during almost all times. This way, the turbines are often turning than not. When wind currents are too much, the blades change their positions to avoid breaking. Alternatively, the turbines use their braking system to prevent spinning incidents (Whitelee Wind Farm n.d.).
It is evident that renewable energy generation technologies apply natural resources to produce electric power. These resources include: wind, water, solar, biomass among others, which can be quickly replaced. This way, the fear instilled by the ever decreasing oil and gas reservoirs as well as environmental concerns is lessened incredibly as energy technologists plan and implement wind farm projects aimed at creating an alternative approach to electricity generation.
Renewable wind energy sources are a noteworthy potential for energy efficiencies. Innovative expansion of wind power technologies can also bring about significant economic benefits and energy security. The worlds’ biggest wind farm is the Gansu Wind Farm, and consists of thousands of wind turbines. This implies that there are several turbines to support electricity production in wind farms. Over the recent years, technological advancements have improved the power of wind energy in clean electricity generation using turbines, such as the ones installed at the Whitelee Wind Farm. Overall, it can be concluded that large-scale wind farms offer a vital alternative resource for electricity generation.
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