Wind Energy: Producing Clean Electricity
By Joan Whetzel
Wind turbines, those lofty towers topped with propeller-like blades, reign over many of the windiest locations on earth. The blades are allowed to rotate freely in windy conditions, in order to collect the wind's energy, which is stored and converted to electricity for use by the customers of many power companies. They are also seen in use by individuals for powering individual homes, farms and ranches, and small businesses.
Types of Wind Generators
Wind generators come in many shapes and sizes:
· small wind generators for use on boats.
· individual, private wind generators (windmills) that create electricity for water pumps and grain grinding stones.
· large turbines, that produce electricity on a grand scale for providing power to bigger towns and cities.
How Wind Generators Work
Wind stirs the turbine blades, causing them to begin rotating - something like the propellers on a boat or an airplane. The energy produced by the spinning blades is transferred to a rotating disc, known as a rotor, which is connected to the turbine shaft. The transferred energy cause the shaft to begin spinning, with the help of a set of gears, which in turn, turns on an electrical generator (i.e. a huge battery made up of a set of magnets wrapped in a coiled wire). The generator creates electromagnetic energy which pushes the electricity along the power lines from the wind farm to the electric companies' consumers.
Cons of Wind Turbines
Wind energy has its drawbacks. First off, the turbines generate a lot of noise, which is a huge problem in populated areas. Engineers are continually working on solutions to this problem, and have managed to reduce the noise level produced by the equipment. Other ways to lessen the problems caused by the noise levels include: placing wind farms in unpopulated areas (deserts, oceans) as long as those areas are windy enough to support a wind farm. The second biggest problem created by wind turbines is the harm to birds whose flight paths are now inhabited by the wind farms. Engineers have taken pains to minimize the harm to birds by:
1. burying the high-power transmission lines, and
2. designing turbines that dissuade birds from roosting or alighting near the turbine blades.
Wind Turbines in West Texas
Texas is the 2nd highest State for wind energy production. Texas wind farms produce more than 8500 megawatts of wind energy, which could light up a 100 watt incandescent light bulb for 85 million hours - if it could last that long without burning out. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the biggest problem is getting the electricity from the west Texas deserts (where the wind farms are located) to the eastern part of the state (where most of the consumers are located); without any drop in power along the way; and with a minimal cost to transfer the energy cross state. ERCOT is working on plans to do just that - plans that should be up and running by 2013.
Significance of Wind Energy
The significance of wind energy lies in its being a renewable energy source that produces none of the destructive environmental side effects caused by greenhouse gases, oil spills, and nuclear power plant accidents. What's more, the amount of energy the produce far exceeds the amount of energy it takes to operate the wind farms. In fact, a single wind turbine can produce anywhere from 700 kilowatts to 1.8 megawatts of electricity, so assembling multiple turbines together on a wind farm, maximizes the amount of electricity produced by a single wind event.
· Wind turbines can generate electricity with winds as light as 7.5 mile per hour (mph).
· Stronger winds increase the amount of electricity that the wind farms turn out.
· Wind speeds greater than 45 mph may send turbine blades flying, so they are now constructed with automatic shut-off switches for when wind speeds get to high.
Sovacool, Benjamin K. Wind Works. Avían Mortality from Wind Power, Fossil-Fuel, and Nuclear Electricity. Downloaded 3/12/2012.
Layton, Julia. How Stuff Works. How Wind Power Works. Downloaded 3/12/2012.
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E/ The Environmental Magazine. To what degree do wind turbines harm birds?Downloaded 3/12/2012.
Solardyne. Wind Generators. Produce Power with No Fuel, Costs, Or Pollution. Downloaded 3/12/2012.
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Fuel for Thought, produced in 2008 by KUHT-TV, Houston's PBS station.
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