Wind energy is now one of the fastest-growing sources of electric power in the world, with a global installed capacity of nearly 500,000 MW. While most people have the impression that the wind is a unique source of power in itself, did you know that it has something to do with solar power? It’s true, and in this post, we’ll let you know how is wind energy related to solar energy.
What is Wind Power?
In basic terms, the wind is air in motion. It is caused by natural factors like the rotation of the earth and the difference in slopes of the earth’s surface. Energy is involved in the movement of air, and because of this, wind can be a source of power.
Wind power has been used for centuries to grind grain, pump water, and move ships. When we talk about wind power, the first ideas that come to mind are the windmills that are seen across Europe, most notably in Holland. During the 20th century, windmills have been used to pump water and produce electric power and were commonly used across the Great Plains.
How is Wind Energy Related to Solar Energy
Wind power has something to do with solar power. Wind energy really comes from the sun and is a converted form of solar power. The sun warms the different parts of the earth, like the land, oceans and other bodies of water. At it does it at different rates. This way, land, and water absorb and reflect sunlight in different ways.
How is wind energy related to solar energy? The answer lies in the uneven heating of land and water that causes changes in the atmosphere. The hot air rises and causes a drop in air pressure near the earth’s surface. Cool air is then drawn in to replace it. This exchange of air results in movement, or simply wind. We can also say that wind power is a form of solar power.
Wind Power Depends on Certain Factors
The uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun causes air to move at different rates. Along with the earth’s uneven surface and the earth’s rotation, wind flow patterns also depend on the bodies of water and vegetative cover.
Apart from how is wind energy related to solar energy, we need to know that wind power varies depending on the location. In other words, wind strength is often site-specific. Under normal conditions, wind power is strong along coastlines, hilltops and northern latitudes.
Wind power cannot be harnessed as easily as solar power, but it is a unique source of power in itself. Wind power is more prevalent in the winter months, where there is without much sunlight. Some solar electric systems come as hybrid systems that produce power through sunlight and wind. Such systems can produce enough power all year round, regardless of climate conditions. Thus, when sunlight is scarce, the wind will be the source of electric power.
How Wind Power Works
Air, just like any other type of matter, has mass. Air becomes wind when it is in motion, and it contains kinetic energy. And the energy created from wind motion is “harvested” by wind turbines to produce electric power.
In a sense, wind turbines are power conversion devices. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy in wind into electric power. Most people often think of old windmills in Europe that use the power of the wind for grinding grain or pumping water. But the fact is that wind power is now being used to power industries and homes.
Wind turbines are like aircraft propeller blades. They turn in the moving air, spin a shaft and power a generator that supplies an electric current. In simple terms, a wind turbine works in the opposite way of a fan.
Often, these turbines are 200 feet or more above the ground. The wind blows and turns the turbine’s blades. The blades are connected to a drive shaft, which is attached to an electric generator. The electric power produced is often not in the form of direct current (DC).
Wind turbines today come in 2 basic types. There are those with a vertical axis that works just like a giant eggbeater. And there are those with a horizontal axis that works like a propeller. Many wind turbines today are of the propeller type.
Benefits of Wind Power
A lot of people wonder how is wind energy related to solar energy and how it benefits us today. The fact is that just like solar power, wind power is a free source of energy that can be renewed and sustained. No matter how much wind is used, there will still be the same supply in the future. Because solar power does a lot in producing wind power, we won’t have to worry about it being depleted.
Wind power is a source of clean, non-polluting electric power. Unlike most power plants, it doesn’t emit any greenhouse gases or pollutants. Wind power plants in the US can offset its emission of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Think about it: you’d need a forest of 90 to 175 million trees to produce the same quality of air.
The United States has some of the best wind power plants in the world. It can produce power that is nearly 10 times the country’s existing power needs. Truly, wind power has become one of the cheapest sources of power and is poised to replace coal, gas and nuclear power. The cost of wind power has dropped steadily over the past years, and newer wind turbines are more effective in producing more power. Today, over 400 companies in the US are building components, blades, and towers for this power industry.
Just like solar power, wind power is a source that we can depend on and is a great option for our energy portfolio. In the US alone, the energy sector is set to deliver thousands of megawatts of clean energy from areas that have strong winds.
Issues with Wind Power
But even if the cost of wind power has decreased in the past decade, building such a plant requires a higher start-up investment than those that run on fossil fuels. About 80% of the cost lies in the machines used, along with preparing the site and installing the turbines. However, wind power costs are much cheaper than other power sources because there is no fuel to purchase. And it has minimal costs to operate.
Compared to fossil fuel power plants, wind power plants have a small impact on Mother Earth. But there is a big concern over the noise produced by the rotor blades. Some people also see wind turbines as having a negative impact in terms of aesthetics. And birds and other flying animals have been killed when they come across the rotors. Regardless, these issues have been resolved or greatly reduced by developing new wind turbines and selecting better sites of power plants.
Supply and transport issues are major challenges to using wind power. For one thing, the wind comes and goes, and doesn’t always blow. Hence, wind cannot be harnessed at all times to meet the demands of electric power. Further, sites with good wind are often located in remote locations, far from cities that demand more power.
Lastly, there are issues with land use. Rather than use the land for making wind power plants, it’s used for other purposes that are more valued than electric power. Instead of putting up wind turbines, these areas are preserved for grazing or farming.
Regardless of these issues, it is without a doubt that wind power is a great source for the clean and green source of power.