Wind energy has grown from a small, niche industry to one of the world’s most popular forms of renewable power. But what is wind? And why has it become so useful in recent years? Below is everything you need to know about this natural phenomenon, and how it’s being harnessed as an abundant, renewable energy resource.
Wind: Why Does It Exist?
Wind exists due to the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface. Warm air and cool air have different densities, which causes differences in air pressure. This leads to air movements that encompass everything from gentle breezes to strong gusts. But the specifics of how wind works are complex and makes wind difficult to predict.
How Does Wind Work?
Wind “works” by moving air particles from cooler areas to warmer ones.
As warm air rises, it becomes less dense. The denser cold air then rushes in to fill the space vacated by the particles contained in the expanding warm air.
This is physics happening at the particle level, yet it is felt on the macro level. And the fact that blowing wind is usually cooler than the ambient air temperature makes it even easier to feel.
How Is Wind Made?
Wind is made because of the different angles that the sun’s rays reach the Earth, and it’s further complicated by the oceans, mountains, and other features that make certain places warmer than others. The uneven distribution of solar radiation and absorption creates areas of warm air and cold air, which lead to different air pressures within these systems.
Differences in air pressure leads to the movement of air across these gradients, as air particles from high-pressure areas rush in to fill lower pressure areas. This movement of air particles is wind at work.
Windmills: Capturing the Wind
Wind has been used by human beings for thousands of years to propel ships, grind wheat, and make salt from seawater. But using windmills for electricity is relatively new.
The first known example of using wind for electricity generation occurred in 1887. However, technology has grown immensely since then. Utility scale wind, which is the process of harnessing wind for large, electrical purposes, is now commonplace. There are currently tens of thousands of windmills in operation across the world.
How Do Windmills Work?
Initially, windmills were used to pump water and turn grain into flour. But today they are used almost exclusively for power generation. Regardless of purpose, all windmills work under the same premise: use the power of wind to spin the rotor, which is made up of individual blades, and harness its kinetic energy. This spinning motion is used to drive a wind turbine to generate electricity in modern windmills.
The way windmills operate has not changed since earlier in human civilization, with blowing wind moving the rotor blades. However, as the need for grinding grains evolved into the need for electricity generation, new parts were introduced to make this a possibility. Turbines made of gearboxes and generators were constructed to allow for this, and that technology continues to expand. Now, windmills can be found on every continent and they contribute a significant portion of the global energy supply.
Where Are Some Windmills Located?
There are windmills all over the world, although siting (aka allocating land for wind energy development) is better in certain places. Areas that have steady wind conditions and the infrastructure to store and transmit energy are better suited for building windmills. They can be small-scale or part of wind farms, which are essentially wind “power plants.”
Onshore and offshore wind farms can be found in the United States, China, India, Spain, UK, and Canada, which are the top countries for installed wind capacity.
Onshore wind refers to wind farms that are located on land, with direct transmission to the larger power grid of a particular region. These are located throughout the world, with China, the United States, and India having the most installed capacity. However, Austria is the only landlocked country in the top 50 global producers of wind energy.
Offshore wind refers to wind farms that are located on the ocean, either on floating bases or permanently constructed artificial islands. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Denmark utilize offshore wind more than onshore.
Where Is the World’s Biggest Wind Farm?
Wind farms are large-scale wind power projects — and the United States has five of the 10 biggest wind farms in the world (as part of the American Wind Energy Association). But the largest of them all is on the other side of the world.
China’s Jiuquan Wind Power Base, also known as the Gansu Wind Farm, is the world’s biggest wind farm, with a capacity of 20 gigawatts (20,000 megawatts). It features 7,000 wind turbines installed across six Chinese provinces.
The largest offshore wind farm is Hornsea 1, located in the UK. It has a capacity of 1,218 megawatts.
Windmill Turbines: The Heart of Energy Production
Though windmills spin with the force of air flowing over the blades, they would not have a purpose without turbines. Turbines are essential for electricity generation and are one of the most crucial parts of modern windmills.
What Is a Wind Turbine?
Wind turbines are a part of the windmill, not an entire piece of separate machinery.
Modern wind turbines are the part of the windmill that effectively generates electricity. Wind turbine blades are attached to the rotor, which spins the components within the turbine at the core of the windmill. This harnesses the power of the wind by generating electricity through the gearbox and the generator, which are activated by the rotor when the turbine blades spin.
How Tall Are Wind Turbines?
There are both large and small wind turbines with varying rotor diameters, though the average height is about 80 meters (260 feet), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The height of turbines has increased over the past few decades — none were even as tall as the average turbine before 2006.
Where Are Wind Turbines Located?
Wind turbines are located at the top of the windmill tower in a casing called the nacelle. Within the nacelle are the gearbox and generator. These components effectively make up the turbine. Windmills cannot function as energy resources for electric power without turbines.
The geographical locations of wind turbines include the United States, China, India, Spain, UK, and Canada.
Where Is the World’s Largest Wind Turbine Located?
The largest wind turbine blade is located in Rotterdam in the Netherlands as part of the Haliade-X 12MW offshore wind farm. It measures in at 107 meters long, or a little over 350 feet, and is larger than a standard football field.
Wind Power: A Resource of Abundance
Given that wind is one of the few guaranteed meteorological features in every area of the world, wind power is a naturally smart innovation. Capturing the power of wind has been done for centuries, in many unconnected cultures — and harnessing this abundant resource has become one of the main methods of electricity generation in the present day.
What Is Wind Power?
Wind power is essentially electricity, which is generated from the spinning of turbine blades in the nacelle (turbine housing) at the top of the windmill tower. This is one of the most utilized forms of clean energy.
Unlike fossil fuels, wind power does not produce carbon emissions, thus having a positive impact on the environment. Wind has become a leading form of commercial and residential power.
How Does Wind Power Work?
Wind power works similar to other turbine-based electrical generation methods, such as hydropower or nuclear power. All three of these methods generate electricity through kinetic energy from turbine blades, which is then transported through transmission lines. The only difference is that wind uses the force of ambient blowing air to spin the turbine blades while hydro and nuclear use water and steam, respectively, to move their turbines.
Wind energy technologies have continued to improve over time. Electricity created by wind generation, as well as wind power capacity, has grown substantially over the past few decades and should continue to increase well into the future.
Renewable Wind Energy
Renewable resources are those that never run out or can regenerate infinitely, without being depleted. Typically, any energy that relies on solar radiation or moving water is inherently renewable. And since wind is driven by uneven heating of the Earth’s surface, it falls under this category as well.
Is Wind Renewable or Nonrenewable?
Wind power is a renewable energy source. Fossil fuels like natural gas, coal, and oil are examples of nonrenewable resources. Nuclear power is also nonrenewable, although unlike fossil fuels, it is carbon dioxide-free.
Renewables such as wind are eligible for a tax credit in several U.S. states, as well as dozens of countries around the world. Other forms of renewable energy include solar energy, hydropower, and geothermal energy.
These forms of clean energy are crucial in the fight against climate change and global warming caused by excess carbon dioxide emissions.
Wind Power: From the Past to the Future
Wind is a ubiquitous facet of nature that humans have been capturing and using for centuries. Modern windmills and turbines have allowed wind energy resources to become a major part of the global electricity mix.
Wind power has been developed over the past few decades to generate enough electricity to make up significant portions of power grids around the world. As energy efficiency continues to improve, wind power should become even more crucial for energy systems across the globe.
Brought to you by taranergy.com
 History of Wind Turbines. Renewable Energy World. https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/2014/11/21/history-of-wind-turbines/#gref. Published November 21, 2014. Accessed October 27, 2020.
 Top 10 Biggest Wind Farms. Power Technology. https://www.power-technology.com/features/feature-biggest-wind-farms-in-the-world-texas/. Updated July 25th, 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020
 World’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm Fully Up and Running. Offshore Wind. https://www.offshorewind.biz/2020/01/30/worlds-largest-offshore-wind-farm-fully-up-and-running. Published January 30, 2020. Accessed October 27, 2020
 Wind Turbine Heights and Capacities Have Increased Over the Past Decade. US Energy Information Administration. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=33912. Published November 29, 2017. Accessed October 27, 2020.
All images licensed from Adobe Stock.
Featured image: https://stock.adobe.com/images/wind-turbines-farm/592434?prev_url=detail