The world is undergoing a transition away from fossil fuels, and toward renewable alternatives. Big names like RS Americas have embraced these technologies completely. Among the more conspicuous and promising of these alternatives is wind power, which looks set to form a significant pillar of the renewable energy market in decades to come.
Growth of Wind Energy
In the US in 2022, around 10% of the country’s net energy demand was met by window power. This figure looks set to grow; in the same year, around $20 billion in new wind investments were made. It is the largest source of renewable energy in the country.
The picture around the world is similar. Around 2100 terawatt-hours of energy were produced by wind turbines in 2022. Much of the new capacity is arriving in China, which is set to add more than sixty gigawatts of capacity in 2024, compared with just 10 in the US.
Wind farms come in two varieties: onshore, and offshore. The former are cheaper and easier to install, and their environmental impact is lesser. The latter, however, tend to be more reliable and efficient, with less impact on the human beings in the vicinity.
One promising development in the world of offshore wind is the advent of the floating wind turbine, which does away with the fixed foundation traditionally used in these types of turbines. This could not only make the technology cheaper; it might also allow it to be deployed further out at sea.
Wind power does not directly release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. And even the gas that it releases indirectly, at the manufacturing stage, is vastly less per kilowatt-hour than the fossil-fuel alternatives. According to one recent report, wind turbines average at just 11g of CO2 per kilowatt hour, compared with 1,000g for coal.
That said, there are a few factors we might worry about. Birds and bats might collide with the blades, and local residents might be concerned about the noise and visual impact. In many cases, flying animals can be deterred with the help of a few simple devices. For example, an ultrasonic ‘boom box’ might be attached to a turbine, warning animals away with continuous sounds so high-pitched that human beings can’t hear them.
Challenges and Solutions
There are a few things to worry about when it comes to wind power. The first is intermittency. The wind doesn’t blow all the time, and the strength of the wind often varies.
We might here consider the role of new technological tools in managing the load on the grid imposed by these devices. So-called ‘smart grids’ seek to gather information about future energy use, and modulate the supply accordingly. This, along with energy storage technologies, would help us to counteract the intermittency inherent in wind power.