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Wind power

Three blades minimize forces related to fatigue, and are the most common design for modern wind turbines.
Renewable energy
Wind Turbine

Solar energy
Tidal power
Wave power
Wind power


Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy, such as electricity, using wind turbines. At the end of 2008, worldwide nameplate capacity of wind-powered generators was 121.2 gigawatts (GW).[1] In 2008, wind power produced about 1.5% of worldwide electricity usage;[1][2] and is growing rapidly, having doubled in the three years between 2005 and 2008. Several countries have achieved relatively high levels of wind power penetration, such as 19% of stationary electricity production in Denmark, 11% in Spain and Portugal, and 7% in Germany and the Republic of Ireland in 2008. As of May 2009, eighty countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.[2]

Large-scale wind farms are connected to the electric power transmission network; smaller facilities are used to provide electricity to isolated locations. Utility companies increasingly buy back surplus electricity produced by small domestic turbines. Wind energy as a power source is attractive as an alternative to fossil fuels, because it is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, and produces no greenhouse gas emissions. However, the construction of wind farms is not universally welcomed due to their visual impact and other effects on the environment.

Wind power is non-dispatchable, meaning that for economic operation, all of the available output must be taken when it is available. Other resources, such as hydropower, and standard load management techniques must be used to match supply with demand. The intermittency of wind seldom creates problems when using wind power to supply a low proportion of total demand. Where wind is to be used for a moderate fraction of demand such as 40%, additional costs for compensation of intermittency are considered to be modest.[3][4]



Brazos Wind Ranch of Texas in 2004

Humans have been using wind power for at least 5,500 years to propel sailboats and sailing ships, and architects have used wind-driven natural ventilation in buildings since similarly ancient times. Windmills have been used for irrigation pumping and for milling grain since the 7th century AD.

In the United States, the development of the "water-pumping windmill" was the major factor in allowing the farming and ranching of vast areas otherwise devoid of readily accessible water. Windpumps contributed to the expansion of rail transport systems throughout the world, by pumping water from water wells for the steam locomotives.[5] The multi-bladed wind turbine atop a lattice tower made of wood or steel was, for many years, a fixture of the landscape throughout rural America. When fitted with generators and battery banks, small wind machines provided electricity to isolated farms.

In July 1887, a Scottish academic, Professor James Blyth, undertook wind power experiments that culminated in a UK patent in 1891.[6] In the United States, Charles F. Brush produced electricity using a wind powered machine, starting in the winter of 1887-1888, which powered his home and laboratory until about 1900. In the 1890s, the Danish scientist and inventor Poul la Cour constructed wind turbines to generate electricity, which was then used to produce hydrogen.[6] These were the first of what was to become the modern form of wind turbine.

Small wind turbines for lighting of isolated rural buildings were widespread in the first part of the 20th century. Larger units intended for connection to a distribution network were tried at several locations including Yalta in 1931 and in Vermont in 1941.

The modern wind power industry began in 1979 with the serial production of wind turbines by Danish manufacturers Kuriant, Vestas, Nordtank, and Bonus. These early turbines were small by today's standards, with capacities of 20–30 kW each. Since then, they have increased greatly in size, while wind turbine production has expanded to many countries.

Wind energy

Distribution of wind speed (red) and energy (blue) for all of 2002 at the Lee Ranch facility in Colorado. The histogram shows measured data, while the curve is the Rayleigh model distribution for the same average wind speed. Energy is the Betz limit through a 100-metre diameter circle facing directly into the wind. Total energy for the year through that circle was 15.4 gigawatt-hours (GWh).

The Earth is unevenly heated by the sun, such that the poles receive less energy from the sun than the equator; along with this, dry land heats up (and cools down) more quickly than the seas do. The differential heating drives a global atmospheric convection system reaching from the Earth's surface to the stratosphere which acts as a virtual ceiling. Most of the energy stored in these wind movements can be found at high altitudes where continuous wind speeds of over 160 km/h (100 mph) occur. Eventually, the wind energy is converted through friction into diffuse heat throughout the Earth's surface and the atmosphere.

The total amount of economically extractable power available from the wind is considerably more than present human power use from all sources.[7] An estimated 72 TW of wind power on the Earth potentially can be commercially viable,[8] compared to about 15 TW average global power consumption from all sources in 2005. Not all the energy of the wind flowing past a given point can be recovered (see Betz' law).

Distribution of wind speed

The strength of wind varies, and an average value for a given location does not alone indicate the amount of energy a wind turbine could produce there. To assess the frequency of wind speeds at a particular location, a probability distribution function is often fit to the observed data. Different locations will have different wind speed distributions. The Weibull model closely mirrors the actual distribution of hourly wind speeds at many locations. The Weibull factor is often close to 2 and therefore a Rayleigh distribution can be used as a less accurate, but simpler model.

Because so much power is generated by higher wind speed, much of the energy comes in short bursts. The 2002 Lee Ranch sample is telling;[9] half of the energy available arrived in just 15% of the operating time. The consequence is that wind energy from a particular turbine or wind farm does not have as consistent an output as fuel-fired power plants; utilities that use wind power provide power from starting existing generation for times when the wind is weak thus wind power is primarily a fuel saver rather than a capacity saver. Making wind power more consistent requires that various existing technologies and methods be extended, in particular the use of stronger inter-regional transmission to link widely distributed wind farms, since the average variability is much less; the use of hydro storage and demand-side energy management.[10]

Electricity generation

Typical components of a wind turbine (gearbox, rotor shaft and brake assembly) being lifted into position

In a wind farm, individual turbines are interconnected with a medium voltage (usually 34.5 kV) power collection system and communications network. At a substation, this medium-voltage electrical current is increased in voltage with a transformer for connection to the high voltage electric power transmission system.

The surplus power produced by domestic microgenerators can, in some jurisdictions, be fed back into the network and sold back to the utility company, producing a retail credit for the consumer to offset their energy costs.[11][12]

Grid management

Induction generators, often used for wind power projects, require reactive power for excitation so substations used in wind-power collection systems include substantial capacitor banks for power factor correction. Different types of wind turbine generators behave differently during transmission grid disturbances, so extensive modelling of the dynamic electromechanical characteristics of a new wind farm is required by transmission system operators to ensure predictable stable behaviour during system faults (see: Low voltage ride through). In particular, induction generators cannot support the system voltage during faults, unlike steam or hydro turbine-driven synchronous generators. Doubly-fed machines—wind turbines with solid-state converters between the turbine generator and the collector system—generally have more desirable properties for grid interconnection. Transmission systems operators will supply a wind farm developer with a grid code to specify the requirements for interconnection to the transmission grid. This will include power factor, constancy of frequency and dynamic behaviour of the wind farm turbines during a system fault.[13][14]

Capacity factor

Worldwide installed capacity 1997–2008, with projection 2009–13 based on an exponential fit. Data source: WWEA

Since wind speed is not constant, a wind farm's annual energy production is never as much as the sum of the generator nameplate ratings multiplied by the total hours in a year. The ratio of actual productivity in a year to this theoretical maximum is called the capacity factor. Typical capacity factors are 20–40%, with values at the upper end of the range in particularly favourable sites.[15] For example, a 1MW turbine with a capacity factor of 35% will not produce 8,760 MWh in a year (1 × 24 × 365), but only 1 × 0.35 × 24 × 365 = 3,066 MWh, averaging to 0.35 MW. Online data is available for some locations and the capacity factor can be calculated from the yearly output.[16][17]

Unlike fueled generating plants, the capacity factor is limited by the inherent properties of wind. Capacity factors of other types of power plant are based mostly on fuel cost, with a small amount of downtime for maintenance. Nuclear plants have low incremental fuel cost, and so are run at full output and achieve a 90% capacity factor. Plants with higher fuel cost are throttled back to follow load. Gas turbine plants using natural gas as fuel may be very expensive to operate and may be run only to meet peak power demand. A gas turbine plant may have an annual capacity factor of 5–25% due to relatively high energy production cost.

According to a 2007 Stanford University study published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, interconnecting ten or more wind farms can allow an average of 33% of the total energy produced to be used as reliable, baseload electric power, as long as minimum criteria are met for wind speed and turbine height.[18][19]


Wind energy "penetration" refers to the fraction of energy produced by wind compared with the total available generation capacity. There is no generally accepted "maximum" level of wind penetration. The limit for a particular grid will depend on the existing generating plants, pricing mechanisms, capacity for storage or demand management, and other factors. An interconnected electricity grid will already include reserve generating and transmission capacity to allow for equipment failures; this reserve capacity can also serve to regulate for the varying power generation by wind plants. Studies have indicated that 20% of the total electrical energy consumption may be incorporated with minimal difficulty.[20] These studies have been for locations with geographically dispersed wind farms, some degree of dispatchable energy, or hydropower with storage capacity, demand management, and interconnection to a large grid area export of electricity when needed. Beyond this level, there are few technical limits, but the economic implications become more significant. Electrical utilities continue to study the effects of large (20% or more) scale penetration of wind generation on system stability and economics. [21][22][23][24]

At present, a few grid systems have penetration of wind energy above 5%: Denmark (values over 19%), Spain and Portugal (values over 11%), Germany and the Republic of Ireland (values over 6%). The Danish grid is heavily interconnected to the European electrical grid, and it has solved grid management problems by exporting almost half of its wind power to Norway. The correlation between electricity export and wind power production is very strong.[25]

Intermittency and penetration limits

Diagram of the TVA pumped storage facility at Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant

Electricity generated from wind power can be highly variable at several different timescales: from hour to hour, daily, and seasonally. Annual variation also exists, but is not as significant. Related to variability is the short-term (hourly or daily) predictability of wind plant output. Like other electricity sources, wind energy must be "scheduled". Wind power forecasting methods are used, but predictability of wind plant output remains low for short-term operation.

Because instantaneous electrical generation and consumption must remain in balance to maintain grid stability, this variability can present substantial challenges to incorporating large amounts of wind power into a grid system. Intermittency and the non-dispatchable nature of wind energy production can raise costs for regulation, incremental operating reserve, and (at high penetration levels) could require an increase in the already existing energy demand management, load shedding, or storage solutions or system interconnection with HVDC cables. At low levels of wind penetration, fluctuations in load and allowance for failure of large generating units requires reserve capacity that can also regulate for variability of wind generation. Wind power can be replaced by other power stations during low wind periods. Transmission networks must already cope with outages of generation plant and daily changes in electrical demand. Systems with large wind capacity components may need more spinning reserve (plants operating at less than full load). [26][27]

A series of detailed modelling studies which looked at the Europe wide adoption of renewable energy and interlinking power grids using HVDC cables, indicates that the entire power usage could come from renewables, with 70% total energy from wind at the same sort of costs or lower than at present. Intermittency would be dealt with, according to this model, by a combination of geographic dispersion to de-link weather system effects, and the ability of HVDC to shift power from windy areas to non-windy areas.[28][29]

Pumped-storage hydroelectricity or other forms of grid energy storage can store energy developed by high-wind periods and release it when needed.[30] Stored energy increases the economic value of wind energy since it can be shifted to displace higher cost generation during peak demand periods. The potential revenue from this arbitrage can offset the cost and losses of storage; the cost of storage may add 25% to the cost of any wind energy stored, but it is not envisaged that this would apply to a large proportion of wind energy generated. Thus, the 2 GW Dinorwig pumped storage plant adds costs to nuclear energy in the UK for which it was built, but not to all the power produced from the 30 or so GW of nuclear plants in the UK.

In particular geographic regions, peak wind speeds may not coincide with peak demand for electrical power. In the US states of California and Texas, for example, hot days in summer may have low wind speed and high electrical demand due to air conditioning. Some utilities subsidize the purchase of geothermal heat pumps by their customers, to reduce electricity demand during the summer months by making air conditioning up to 70% more efficient;[31] widespread adoption of this technology would better match electricity demand to wind availability in areas with hot summers and low summer winds. Another option is to interconnect widely dispersed geographic areas with an HVDC "Super grid". In the USA it is estimated that to upgrade the transmission system to take in planned or potential renewables would cost at least $60 billion[32]. Total annual US power consumption in 2006 was 4 thousand billion kWh. [33] Over an asset life of 40 years and low cost utility investment grade funding, the cost of $60 billion investment would be about 5% p.a. (i.e. $3 billion p.a.) Dividing by total power used gives an increased unit cost of around $3,000,000,000 × 100 / 4,000 × 1 exp9 = 0.075 cent/kWh.

In the UK, demand for electricity is higher in winter than in summer, and so are wind speeds.[34][35] Solar power tends to be complementary to wind.[36][37] On daily to weekly timescales, high pressure areas tend to bring clear skies and low surface winds, whereas low pressure areas tend to be windier and cloudier. On seasonal timescales, solar energy typically peaks in summer, whereas in many areas wind energy is lower in summer and higher in winter.[38] Thus the intermittencies of wind and solar power tend to cancel each other somewhat. A demonstration project at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy shows the effect.[39] The Institute for Solar Energy Supply Technology of the University of Kassel pilot-tested a combined power plant linking solar, wind, biogas and hydrostorage to provide load-following power around the clock, entirely from renewable sources.[40]

A report from Denmark noted that their wind power network was without power for 54 days during 2002.[41] Wind power advocates argue that these periods of low wind can be dealt with by simply restarting existing power stations that have been held in readiness or interlinking with HVDC.[28]

Three reports on the wind variability in the UK issued in 2009, generally agree that variability of wind needs to be taken into account, but it does not make the grid unmanageable; and the additional costs, which are modest, can be quantified. [42]

Capacity credit and fuel saving

Many commentators concentrate on whether or not wind has any "capacity credit" without defining what they mean by this and its relevance. Wind does have a capacity credit, using a widely accepted and meaningful definition, equal to about 20% of its rated output (but this figure varies depending on actual circumstances). This means that reserve capacity on a system equal in MW to 20% of added wind could be retired when such wind is added without affecting system security or robustness. But the precise value is irrelevant since the main value of wind, (in the UK, worth 5 times the capacity credit value[43]) is its fuel and CO2 savings.

Turbine placement

Good selection of a wind turbine site is critical to economic development of wind power. Aside from the availability of wind itself, other factors include the availability of transmission lines, value of energy to be produced, cost of land acquisition, land use considerations, and environmental impact of construction and operations. Off-shore locations may offset their higher construction cost with higher annual load factors, thereby reducing cost of energy produced. Wind farm designers use specialized wind energy software applications to evaluate the impact of these issues on a given wind farm design.

Wind power density (WPD) is a calculation of the effective power of the wind at a particular location. [44] A map showing the distribution of wind power density is a first step in identifying possible locations for wind turbines. In the United States, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory classifies wind power density into ascending classes. The larger the WPD at a location, the higher it is rated by class. Wind power classes 3 (300-400 W/m2 at 50m altitude) to 7 (800-2000 W/m2 at 50m altitude) are generally considered suitable for wind power development. There are 625,000 km2 in the contiguous United States that have class 3 or higher wind resources and which are within 10km of electric transmission lines. If this area is fully utilized for wind power, it would produce power at the average continuous equivalent rate of 734,000 MW e. The total installed capacity of all electric power plants in the United States is 948,000 MW which at a load factor assumed of 60% implies an average continuous output of 570 MW e.[45]

Wind power usage

Installed windpower capacity (MW)[46][47][48][49][50][51]
# Nation 2005 2006 2007 2008[1]
1 Flag of the United States United States 9,149 11,603 16,818 25,237
2 Flag of Germany Germany 18,415 20,622 22,247 23,933
3 Flag of Spain Spain 10,028 11,615 15,145 16,543
4 Flag of the People's Republic of China China 1,260 2,604 6,050 12,121
5 Flag of India India 4,430 6,270 8,000 9,655
6 Flag of Italy Italy 1,718 2,123 2,726 3,736
7 Flag of France France 757 1,567 2,454 3,404
8 Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom 1,332 1,963 2,389 3,288
9 Flag of Denmark Denmark
(& Faeroe Islands)
3,136 3,140 3,129 3,160
10 Flag of Portugal Portugal 1,022 1,716 2,150 2,862
11 Flag of Canada Canada 683 1,459 1,856 2,369
12 Flag of the Netherlands Netherlands 1,219 1,560 1,747 2,225
13 Flag of Japan Japan 1,061 1,394 1,538 1,880
14 Flag of Australia Australia 708 817 824 1,494
15 Flag of Sweden Sweden 510 572 788 1,067
16 Flag of Ireland Ireland 496 745 805 1,245
17 Flag of Austria Austria 819 965 982 995
18 Flag of Greece Greece 573 746 871 990
19 Flag of Poland Poland 83 153 276 472
20 Flag of Turkey Turkey 20 51 146 433
21 Flag of Norway Norway 267 314 333 428
22 Flag of Belgium Belgium 167 193 287 384
23 Flag of Egypt Egypt 145 230 310 390
24 Flag of the Republic of China Taiwan 104 188 282 358
25 Flag of Brazil Brazil 29 237 247 338
26 Flag of New Zealand New Zealand 169 171 322 325
27 Flag of South Korea South Korea 98 173 191 278
28 Flag of Bulgaria Bulgaria 6 20 35 158
29 Flag of the Czech Republic Czech Republic 28 50 116 150
30 Flag of Finland Finland 82 86 110 140
31 Flag of Morocco Morocco 64 124 114 125
32 Flag of Hungary Hungary 18 61 65 127
33 Flag of Ukraine Ukraine 77 86 89 90
34 Flag of Mexico Mexico 3 88 87 85
35 Flag of Iran Iran 23 48 66 82
36 Flag of Costa Rica Costa Rica 71 74 74 74
Rest of Europe 129 163
Rest of Americas 109 109
Rest of Asia 38 38
Rest of Africa
& Middle East
31 31
Rest of Oceania 12 12
World total (MW) 59,091 74,223 93,849 121,188

There are now many thousands of wind turbines operating, with a total nameplate capacity of 121,188 MWp of which wind power in Europe accounts for 55% (2008). World wind generation capacity more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006, doubling about every three years. 81% of wind power installations are in the US and Europe. The share of the top five countries in terms of new installations fell from 71% in 2004 to 62% in 2006, but climbed to 73% by 2008 as those countries—the United States, Germany, Spain, China, and India—have seen substantial capacity growth in the past two years (see chart).

By 2010, the World Wind Energy Association expects 160GW of capacity to be installed worldwide,[52] up from 73.9 GW at the end of 2006, implying an anticipated net growth rate of more than 21% per year.

Denmark generates nearly one-fifth of its electricity with wind turbines—the highest percentage of any country—and is ninth in the world in total wind power generation. Denmark is prominent in the manufacturing and use of wind turbines, with a commitment made in the 1970s to eventually produce half of the country's power by wind.

In recent years, the US has added more wind energy to its grid than any other country, with a growth in power capacity of 45% to 16.8 GW in 2007[53] and surpassing Germany's nameplate capacity in 2008. California was one of the incubators of the modern wind power industry, and led the U.S. in installed capacity for many years; however, by the end of 2006, Texas became the leading wind power state and continues to extend its lead. At the end of 2008, the state had 7,116 MW installed, which would have ranked it sixth in the world if Texas was a separate country. Iowa and Minnesota each grew to more than 1 GW installed by the end of 2007; in 2008 they were joined by Oregon, Washington, and Colorado.[54] Wind power generation in the U.S. was up 31.8% in February, 2007 from February, 2006.[55] The average output of one MW of wind power is equivalent to the average electricity consumption of about 250 American households. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind will generate enough electricity in 2008 to power just over 1% (4.5 million households) of total electricity in U.S., up from less than 0.1% in 1999. U.S. Department of Energy studies have concluded wind harvested in the Great Plains states of Texas, Kansas, and North Dakota could provide enough electricity to power the entire nation, and that offshore wind farms could do the same job.[56][57] In addition, the wind resource over and around the Great Lakes, recoverable with currently available technology, could by itself provide 80% as much power as the U.S. and Canada currently generate from non-renewable resources,[58] with Michigan's share alone equating to one third of current U.S. electricity demand.[59]

In 2005, China announced it would build a 1000 MW wind farm in Hebei for completion in 2020. China has set a generating target of 30,000 MW by 2020 from renewable energy sources — it says indigenous wind power could generate up to 253,000 MW.[60] A Chinese renewable energy law was adopted in November 2004, following the World Wind Energy Conference organized by the Chinese and the World Wind Energy Association. By 2008, wind power was growing faster in China than the government had planned, and indeed faster in percentage terms than in any other large country, having more than doubled each year since 2005. Policymakers doubled their wind power prediction for 2010, after the wind industry reached the original goal of 5 GW three years ahead of schedule.[61] Current trends suggest an actual installed capacity near 20 GW by 2010, with China shortly thereafter pursuing the United States for the world wind power lead.[61]

India ranks 5th in the world with a total wind power capacity of 9,587 MW in 2008,[1] or 3% of all electricity produced in India. The World Wind Energy Conference in New Delhi in November 2006 has given additional impetus to the Indian wind industry.[52] Muppandal village in Tamil Nadu state, India, has several wind turbine farms in its vicinity, and is one of the major wind energy harnessing centres in India led by majors like Suzlon, Vestas, Micon among others.[62][63]

Mexico recently opened La Venta II wind power project as an important step in reducing Mexico's consumption of fossil fuels. The 88 MW project is the first of its kind in Mexico, and will provide 13 percent of the electricity needs of the state of Oaxaca. By 2012 the project will have a capacity of 3500 MW.

Another growing market is Brazil, with a wind potential of 143 GW.[64] The federal government has created an incentive program, called Proinfa,[65] to build production capacity of 3300 MW of renewable energy for 2008, of which 1422 MW through wind energy. The program seeks to produce 10% of Brazilian electricity through renewable sources.

South Africa has a proposed station situated on the West Coast north of the Olifants River mouth near the town of Koekenaap, east of Vredendal in the Western Cape province. The station is proposed to have a total output of 100MW although there are negotiations to double this capacity. The plant could be operational by 2010.

France has announced a target of 12,500 MW installed by 2010, though their installation trends over the past few years suggest they'll fall well short of their goal.

Canada experienced rapid growth of wind capacity between 2000 and 2006, with total installed capacity increasing from 137 MW to 1,451 MW, and showing an annual growth rate of 38%.[66] Particularly rapid growth was seen in 2006, with total capacity doubling from the 684 MW at end-2005.[67] This growth was fed by measures including installation targets, economic incentives and political support. For example, the Ontario government announced that it will introduce a feed-in tariff for wind power, referred to as 'Standard Offer Contracts', which may boost the wind industry across the province.[68] In Quebec, the provincially-owned electric utility plans to purchase an additional 2000 MW by 2013.[69]

Annual Wind Power Generation (TWh) and total electricity consumption(TWh) for 10 largest countries[1][70][71][72][73][74]
Rank Nation 2005 2006 2007 2008
% Total
% Total
% Total
% Total
1 Flag of the United States United States 17.8 22.2% 0.4% 4048.9 26.6 26.1% 0.7% 4058.1 34.5 23.4% 0.8% 4149.9 52.0 23.5% 1.3% 4108.6
2 Flag of Germany Germany 27.2 16.9% 5.1% 533.7 30.7 17.0% 5.4% 569.9 38.5 19.7% 6.6% 584.9
3 Flag of Spain Spain 20.7 23.5% 7.9% 260.7 22.9 22.4% 8.5% 268.8 27.2 20.5% 9.8% 276.8 31.4 21.7% 11.1% 282.1
4 Flag of the People's Republic of China China 1.9 17.2% 0.1% 2474.7 3.7 16.2% 0.1% 2834.4 5.6 [75] 10.6% 0.2% 3255.9 12.8 [76] 12.0% 0.4% 3426.8
5 Flag of India India 6.3 16.2% 0.9% 679.2 7.6 13.8% 1.0% 726.7 14.7 21.0% 1.9% 774.7
6 Flag of Italy Italy 2.3 15.3% 0.7% 330.4 3.0 16.1% 0.9% 337.5 4.0[77] 16.7% 1.2% 339.9
7 Flag of France France 0.9 13.6% 0.2% 482.4 2.2 16.0% 0.5% 478.4 4.0 18.6% 0.8% 480.3 5.6 18.8% 1.1% 494.5
8 Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom 2.8 24.0% 0.7% 407.4 4.0 23.2% 1.0% 383.9 5.9 28.2% 1.5% 379.8
9 Flag of Denmark Denmark 6.6 24.0% 18.5% 35.7 6.1 22.2% 16.8% 36.4 7.2 26.3% 19.7% 36.4 6.9 24.9% 19.1% 36.2
10 Flag of Portugal Portugal 1.7 19.0% 3.6% 47.9 2.9 19.3% 5.9% 49.2 4.0 21.2% 8.0% 50.1 5.7 22.7% 11.3% 50.6
World total (TWh) 99.5 19.2% 0.6% 15,746.5[78] 124.9 19.2% 0.7% 16,790 17,480[79] 260[1] 24.5%[1] 1.5%[1]

Small-scale wind power

This wind turbine charges a 12 V battery to run 12 V appliances.

Small-scale wind power is the name given to wind generation systems with the capacity to produce up to 50 kW of electrical power.[80] Isolated communities, that may otherwise rely on diesel generators may use wind turbines to displace diesel fuel consumption. Individuals may purchase these systems to reduce or eliminate their dependence on grid electricity for economic or other reasons, or to reduce their carbon footprint. Wind turbines have been used for household electricity generation in conjunction with battery storage over many decades in remote areas.

Grid-connected wind turbines may use grid energy storage, displacing purchased energy with local production when available. Off-grid system users can either adapt to intermittent power or use batteries, photovoltaic or diesel systems to supplement the wind turbine. In urban locations, where it is difficult to obtain predictable or large amounts of wind energy (little is known about the actual wind resource of towns and cities [81]), smaller systems may still be used to run low-power equipment. Equipment such as parking meters or wireless Internet gateways may be powered by a wind turbine that charges a small battery, replacing the need for a connection to the power grid.

A new Carbon Trust study into the potential of small-scale wind energy has found that small wind turbines could provide up to 1.5 terawatt hours (TW·h) per year of electricity (0.4% of total UK electricity consumption), saving 0.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (Mt CO2) emission savings. This is based on the assumption that 10% of households would install turbines at costs competitive with grid electricity, around 12 pence (US 19 cents) a kWh.[82]

Distributed generation from renewable resources is increasing as a consequence of the increased awareness of climate change. The electronic interfaces required to connect renewable generation units with the utility system can include additional functions, such as the active filtering to enhance the power quality.[83]

Economics and feasibility

Erection of an Enercon E70-4

Full costs and lobbying

Commenting on the EU's 2020 renewable energy target, Helm (2009) is critical of how the costs of wind power are citied by lobbyists:[84]

For those with an economic interest in capturing as much of the climate-change pork barrel as possible, there are two ways of presenting the costs [of wind power] in a favourable light: first, define the cost base as narrowly as possible; and, second, assume that the costs will fall over time with R&D and large-scale deployment. And, for good measure, when considering the alternatives, go for a wider cost base (for example, focusing on the full fuel-cycle costs of nuclear and coal-mining for coal generation) and assume that these technologies are mature, and even that costs might rise (for example, invoking the highly questionable ‘peak oil hypothesis’).

According to Helm, a correct economic analysis of wind power should be based on a full-costs approach, and include full network costs and back-up generation requirements. "On this basis," Helm says, "most studies show wind power to be expensive relative to other fuels and, indeed, in many cases to achieve the dubious position of making nuclear power look cheap".

A House of Lords Select Committee report (2008) on renewable energy in the UK says:[85]

We have a particular concern over the prospective role of wind generated and other intermittent sources of electricity in the UK, in the absence of a break-through in electricity storage technology or the integration of the UK grid with that of continental Europe. Wind generation offers the most readily available short-term enhancement in renewable electricity and its base cost is relatively cheap. Yet the evidence presented to us implies that the full costs of wind generation (allowing for intermittency, back-up conventional plant and grid connection), although declining over time, remain significantly higher than those of conventional or nuclear generation (even before allowing for support costs and the environmental impacts of wind farms). Furthermore, the evidence suggests that the capacity credit of wind power (its probable power output at the time of need) is very low; so it cannot be relied upon to meet peak demand. Thus wind generation needs to be viewed largely as additional capacity to that which will need to be provided, in any event, by more reliable means

Helm (2009) says that wind's problem of intermittent supply will probably lead to another dash-for-gas or dash-for-coal in Europe, possibly with a negative impact on energy security.[84]

Relative cost of electricity by generation source

When looking at the costs of electric power, to have any validity and usefulness, competing sources need to be compared on a similar basis of calculation. Thus simply citing the cost of wind power without comparison to other sources is of limited value.

When comparing renewable and conventional power sources costs several internal cost factors have to be considered. Note we are not here talking about price, ie actual selling price, since this can be affected by a variety of factors such as subsidies on some energy and sources and taxes on others:

  • Capital costs (including waste disposal and decomissioning costs for nuclear energy)
  • Operating and maintenance costs
  • Fuel costs (for fossil fuel and biomass sources, and which may be negative for wastes)
  • Expected annual hours run

To evaluate the cost of production of electricity, the streams of costs are converted to a net present value using the time value of money. Inherently renewables are on a decreasing cost curve, while non-renewables are on an increasing cost curve. [86]

There are additional costs for renewables in terms of increased grid interconnection to allow for diversity of weather and load, but these have been shown in the pan-European case to be quite low, showing that overall wind energy costs about the same as present day power.[87]

Growth and cost trends

Wind and hydroelectric power generation have negligible fuel costs and relatively low maintenance costs. Wind power has a low marginal cost and a high proportion of capital cost. The estimated average cost per unit incorporates the cost of construction of the turbine and transmission facilities, borrowed funds, return to investors (including cost of risk), estimated annual production, and other components, averaged over the projected useful life of the equipment, which may be in excess of twenty years. Energy cost estimates are highly dependent on these assumptions so published cost figures can differ substantially. A British Wind Energy Association report gives an average generation cost of onshore wind power of around 3.2 pence (between US 5 and 6 cents) per kWh (2005).[88] Cost per unit of energy produced was estimated in 2006 to be comparable to the cost of new generating capacity in the US for coal and natural gas: wind cost was estimated at $55.80 per MWh, coal at $53.10/MWh and natural gas at $52.50.[89] Other sources in various studies have estimated wind to be more expensive than other sources (see Economics of new nuclear power plants, Clean coal, and Carbon capture and storage).

In 2004, wind energy cost a fifth of what it did in the 1980s, and some expected that downward trend to continue as larger multi-megawatt turbines were mass-produced.[90] However, installed cost averaged €1,300 a kW in 2007,[91] compared to €1,100 a kW in 2005.[92] Not as many facilities can produce large modern turbines and their towers and foundations, so constraints develop in the supply of turbines resulting in higher costs.[93] Research from a wide variety of sources in various countries shows that support for wind power is consistently 70–80% among the general public.[94]

Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) figures show that 2007 recorded an increase of installed capacity of 20 GW, taking the total installed wind energy capacity to 94 GW, up from 74 GW in 2006. Despite constraints facing supply chains for wind turbines, the annual market for wind continued to increase at an estimated rate of 31%, following 32% growth in 2006. In terms of economic value, the wind energy sector has become one of the important players in the energy markets, with the total value of new generating equipment installed in 2007 reaching €25 billion, or US$36 billion.[91]

Although the wind power industry will be impacted by the global financial crisis in 2009 and 2010, a BTM Consult five year forecast up to 2013 projects substantial growth. Over the past five years the average growth in new installations has been 27.6 percent each year. In the forecast to 2013 the expected average annual growth rate is 15.7 percent.[95][96] More than 200 GW of new wind power capacity could come on line before the end of 2013. Wind power market penetration is expected to reach 3.35 percent by 2013 and 8 percent by 2018.[95][96]

Existing generation capacity represents sunk costs, and the decision to continue production will depend on marginal costs going forward, not estimated average costs at project inception. For example, the estimated cost of new wind power capacity may be lower than that for "new coal" (estimated average costs for new generation capacity) but higher than for "old coal" (marginal cost of production for existing capacity). Therefore, the choice to increase wind capacity will depend on factors including the profile of existing generation capacity.

Theoretical potential

Map of available wind power for the United States. Color codes indicate wind power density class.

Wind power available in the atmosphere is much greater than current world energy consumption. The most comprehensive study to date[97] found the potential of wind power on land and near-shore to be 72 TW, equivalent to 54,000 MToE (million tons of oil equivalent) per year, or over five times the world's current energy use in all forms. The potential takes into account only locations with mean annual wind speeds ≥ 6.9 m/s at 80 m. The study assumes six 1.5 megawatt, 77 m diameter turbines per square kilometer on roughly 13% of the total global land area (though that land would also be available for other compatible uses such as farming). The authors acknowledge that many practical barriers would need to be overcome to reach this theoretical capacity.

The practical limit to exploitation of wind power will be set by economic and environmental factors, since the resource available is far larger than any practical means to develop it.

Direct costs

Many potential sites for wind farms are far from demand centres, requiring substantially more money to construct new transmission lines and substations. In some regions this is partly because frequent strong winds themselves have discouraged dense human settlement in especially windy areas. The wind which was historically a nuisance is now becoming a valuable resource, but it may be far from large populations which developed in areas more sheltered from wind.

Since the primary cost of producing wind energy is construction and there are no fuel costs, the average cost of wind energy per unit of production depends on a few key assumptions, such as the cost of capital and years of assumed service. The marginal cost of wind energy once a plant is constructed is usually less than 1 cent per kWh.[98] Since the cost of capital plays a large part in projected cost, risk (as perceived by investors) will affect projected costs per unit of electricity.

The commercial viability of wind power also depends on the price paid to power producers. Electricity prices are highly regulated worldwide, and in many locations may not reflect the full cost of production, let alone indirect subsidies or negative externalities. Customers may enter into long-term pricing contracts for wind to reduce the risk of future pricing changes, thereby ensuring more stable returns for projects at the development stage. These may take the form of standard offer contracts, whereby the system operator undertakes to purchase power from wind at a fixed price for a certain period (perhaps up to a limit); these prices may be different than purchase prices from other sources, and even incorporate an implicit subsidy.

Where the price for electricity is based on market mechanisms, revenue for all producers per unit is higher when their production coincides with periods of higher prices. The profitability of wind farms will therefore be higher if their production schedule coincides with these periods. If wind represents a significant portion of supply, average revenue per unit of production may be lower as more expensive and less-efficient forms of generation, which typically set revenue levels, are displaced from economic dispatch. This may be of particular concern if the output of many wind plants in a market have strong temporal correlation. In economic terms, the marginal revenue of the wind sector as penetration increases may diminish.

External costs

Most forms of energy production create some form of negative externality: costs that are not paid by the producer or consumer of the good. For electric production, the most significant externality is pollution, which imposes social costs in increased health expenses, reduced agricultural productivity, and other problems. In addition, carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas produced when fossil fuels are burned, may impose even greater costs in the form of global warming. Few mechanisms currently exist to internalise these costs, and the total cost is highly uncertain. Other significant externalities can include military expenditures to ensure access to fossil fuels, remediation of polluted sites, destruction of wild habitat, loss of scenery/tourism, etc.

If the external costs are taken into account, wind energy can be competitive in more cases, as costs have generally decreased due to technology development and scale enlargement. Supporters argue that, once external costs and subsidies to other forms of electrical production are accounted for, wind energy is amongst the least costly forms of electrical production. Critics argue that the level of required subsidies, the small amount of energy needs met, the expense of transmission lines to connect the wind farms to population centers, and the uncertain financial returns to wind projects make it inferior to other energy sources. Intermittency and other characteristics of wind energy also have costs that may rise with higher levels of penetration, and may change the cost-benefit ratio.


Some of the over 6,000 wind turbines at Altamont Pass, in California, United States. Developed during a period of tax incentives in the 1980s, this wind farm has more turbines than any other in the United States.[99]

Wind energy in many jurisdictions receives some financial or other support to encourage its development. Wind energy benefits from subsidies in many jurisdictions, either to increase its attractiveness, or to compensate for subsidies received by other forms of production which have significant negative externalities.

In the United States, wind power receives a tax credit for each kWh produced; at 1.9 cents per kWh in 2006, the credit has a yearly inflationary adjustment. Another tax benefit is accelerated depreciation. Many American states also provide incentives, such as exemption from property tax, mandated purchases, and additional markets for "green credits." Countries such as Canada and Germany also provide incentives for wind turbine construction, such as tax credits or minimum purchase prices for wind generation, with assured grid access (sometimes referred to as feed-in tariffs). These feed-in tariffs are typically set well above average electricity prices. The Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 contains extensions of credits for wind, including microturbines.

Secondary market forces also provide incentives for businesses to use wind-generated power, even if there is a premium price for the electricity. For example, socially responsible manufacturers pay utility companies a premium that goes to subsidize and build new wind power infrastructure. Companies use wind-generated power, and in return they can claim that they are making a powerful "green" effort. In the USA the organization Green-e monitors business compliance with these renewable energy credits.[100]

Environmental effects

Livestock ignore wind turbines,[101] and continue to graze as they did before wind turbines were installed.

Compared to the environmental effects of traditional energy sources, the environmental effects of wind power are relatively minor. Wind power consumes no fuel, and emits no air pollution, unlike fossil fuel power sources. The energy consumed to manufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power plant is equal to the new energy produced by the plant within a few months of operation. Garrett Gross, a scientist from UMKC in Kansas City, Missouri states, "The impact made on the environment is very little when compared to what is gained." The initial carbon dioxide emission from energy used in the installation is "paid back" within about 9 months of operation for offshore turbines.

Danger to birds and bats has been a concern in some locations. However, studies show that the number of birds killed by wind turbines is negligible compared to the number that die as a result of other human activities, and especially the environmental impacts of using non-clean power sources. Fossil fuel generation kills around twenty times as many birds per unit of energy produced than wind-farms.[102] Bat species appear to be at risk during key movement periods. Almost nothing is known about current populations of these species and the impact on bat numbers as a result of mortality at windpower locations. Offshore wind sites 10 km or more from shore do not interact with bat populations. While a wind farm may cover a large area of land, many land uses such as agriculture are compatible, with only small areas of turbine foundations and infrastructure made unavailable for use.

Aesthetics have also been an issue. In the USA, the Massachusetts Cape Wind project was delayed for years mainly because of aesthetic concerns. In the UK, repeated opinion surveys have shown that more than 70% of people either like, or do not mind, the visual impact. According to a town councillor in Ardrossan, Scotland, the overwhelming majority of locals believe that the Ardrossan Wind Farm has enhanced the area, saying that the turbines are impressive looking and bring a calming effect to the town.[103]

See also

  • Airborne wind turbine
  • Distributed Energy Resources
  • Electricity generation
  • Energy development
  • Floating wind turbine
  • Green energy
  • Green tax shift
  • Grid energy storage
  • List of countries by renewable electricity production
  • List of wind farms
  • List of offshore wind farms
  • List of wind turbine manufacturers
  • Merchant Wind Power
  • Microeolic generator: Philippe Starck.
  • Pickens plan
  • Renewable energy
  • Sailboat
  • Vaneless ion wind generator
  • Vertical axis wind turbine
  • Renewable energy in Portugal
  • Renewable energy in Scotland
  • Wind profiler
  • Wind-Diesel
  • The Windbelt, a non-turbine approach to tapping wind power
  • World energy resources and consumption
  • Category:Wind power by country
  • Controlled aerodynamic instability phenomena


External links

Wind power projects