The wind is the oldest source of power harnessed by mankind. Sailing ships have been in use for at least 7,500 years whilst the first ever windmill to power a machine was built in Greece during the first century AD.
Throughout the middle ages, windmills were used for grinding corn into flour and pumping water for irrigation. Later on, they began to be used for sawing timber and for grinding spices, tobacco, dyes and cocoa. In the latter half of the 19th Century, water pumping windmills became popular in the United States, allowing vast tracts of otherwise inhospitable land to be farmed. Around six million water-pumping windmills were built in the United States between 1850 and 1950.
Harnessing the power of the wind is an important part of mankind’s history. With the creation of wind turbines for electricity generation, it is as relevant and important today as it has always been. Wind is one of the most promising sources of renewable energy sources for electricity production, particularly in colder climates where electricity demand is higher in the seasons when wind energy is at its peak.
Wind power has a number of benefits for electricity production: it’s environmentally friendly, with the carbon footprint associated with the production, assembly and installation of the wind turbine usually recovered within a few months of production; they can be installed quickly and additional turbines can be added to a wind farm quickly if demand rises. Wind turbines are extremely reliable, requiring minimal maintenance and servicing.
Of course, there are disadvantages as well. The wind blows when it wants to, not when we want it, which means that matching supply with demand is more difficult. From a national viewpoint, this is not as great a problem as it once was: improved forecasting has enabled power management planning to accurately predict wind energy volumes one day in advance, allowing wind power to be more easily integrated into the mix of power generation sources. As wind turbines are installed across the country, a lull in wind in one area may be compensated by higher winds elsewhere. Consequently, it has been found that 1,000MW of installed wind power can replace 300MW of power from a coal or gas-fired power station.
In the future, large wind farms will be combined with an energy storage system, such as creating hydrogen through electrolysis, then using fuel cells to convert the hydrogen back into electricity on demand. Combining wind power with a hydro-electric pumped storage facility, where water is pumped from a lower level to an upper reservoir when supply is greater than demand and then released when demand is higher, is also an effective way of creating a more constant power source from wind.
If you are planning a wind turbine for your own micro-generation project, you have two choices. You can either feed your power directly into the grid and not have to worry about peaks and troughs, or you can use your wind turbine to charge a bank of batteries, thereby smoothing out the peaks and troughs of supply and demand to provide your own reliable power source.