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OWOE - Introduction To Energy - Introduction to Wind Power
  OWOE Vignette A3 - Introduction to Wind Power
OWOE Vignette A3 - Introduction to Wind Power
Introduction to Wind Power

The wind has been used since ancient times to provide power, from the early sailing ships to medieval windmills to stand-alone water pumps on farms and ranches to modern wind turbines. The world's first wind farm had 20 wind turbines and total power capacity of 0.6 MW, installed on Crotched Mountain in southern New Hampshire in December 1980. The Altamont Pass near San Francisco, California, developed in the 1980s, was once the largest wind farm in the world in terms of capacity and still has the largest concentration of wind turbines in the world. Alta Wind Energy Centre in Tehachapi, Kern County, California, is the largest wind farm in the United States with an operational capacity of 1,020MW and with construction underway to expand capacity to 1,550MW. And the Gansu Wind Farm Project the Gansu province in China is the largest wind farm in the world and includes a group of 18 wind farms currently under construction. When the project is complete in 2020, it is planned to have a capacity of 20,000 MW.

Wind is a clean and renewable source of energy that is in abundant supply. During the month of November 2014 wind surpassed hydroelectric power for the first time as the largest source of renewable power in the US. Although this was somewhat of an anomaly since hydroelectric power generation was reduced in late 2014 due to ongoing drought and water supply issues, it illustrates the fact that wind power is an important and growing source of power. Wind accounted for 4.4% of total electrical generation at the end of 2014, compared to hydroelectric at 6.3%. And given that wind power represented 23% of all new generation during the year as compared with hydroelectric with no additional capacity, wind should soon become the largest source of renewable power.

As the demand for clean wind power continues to grow, new technology and the harnassing of offshore wind provides tremendous potential for significant new generation. Technology is rapidly advancing in the areas of turbine height and blade length which will allow turbines to access stronger winds and more efficiently turn that wind into electricity. Improvements in batteries will allow wind energy to be captured and stored when it is not needed and then transmitted to the grid when it is needed. And improvements in turbine constructability and new construction techniques will reduce the installed cost of turbines, making them more competitive with other forms of energy.

Offshore winds are another growth opportunity. Offshore winds are stronger and tend to be steadier than onshore winds, which improves the generating capacity of each turbine. The US Department of Energy estimates that there is a total offshore wind potential of over 4,000 GW in the 5 offshore wind regions. That compares to the total US electrical generation capacity of just over 1,000 GW. The US has been slower to embrace offshore wind than Europe, where the UK and Denmark are leading the way. However, the first US offshore wind farm is now in development offshore Block Island, Rhode Island, and should start producing in 2016.

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