With new technological advancements in recent decades, wind power has taken an enormous leap forward, becoming more efficient and affordable than ever before. With a fleet of more than 56,000 wind turbines nationwide, wind energy provided more than 5.5 percent of the country’s electricity in 2016, with a handful of states sourcing well over 20 percent of their electricity from wind. And these numbers continue to grow steadily. Currently, wind energy is the fastest-growing source of electricity in the world.
But what makes wind power such a viable alternative to carbon-based sources of energy? Here are some of the factors that contribute to wind power’s widespread popularity.
Wind Energy Is Infinite
Unlike fossil fuels, wind energy is an infinite source of energy. In fact, it is the most abundant energy source on Earth.
“The wind is variable in one location, but the wind is always blowing somewhere in the United States, and the wind speed significantly increases the farther off the ground you go,” says Auston Van Slyke, Program Director for Wind Energy Technology at Ecotech Institute. Today’s wind turbines stretch over 500 feet tall and technology is being developed to reach much higher. As long as we connect our wind farms across America with a smart grid and use technology that is diverse, we will never have the lights go out.”
Wind Turbines Are Efficient
Wind turbine technology is more efficient than other power sources because it wastes less than 1 percent of energy as heat during production. For instance, gas, coal, oil and nuclear fuels lose more than half of their energy as heat during the generation process.
Perhaps even more importantly, Van Slyke points out, is that “wind turbines do not consume or displace water as all other sources of electricity do, coal and Nuclear being the worst, consuming two million gallons per hour. Fresh water is a valuable commodity, more so in some geographies.”
Advances in technology make it possible to store and reuse wind energy during times when turbines are less active, allowing for an uninterrupted power delivery to consumers. Van Slyke adds: “Wind Turbines can produce electricity even when they are not spinning through power factor correction and energy storage.”
Wind Energy Flexibility
Wind energy generation is also extremely flexible and can be implemented in various environments both on a large and small scale.
Van Slyke explains: “Multi-use of the land is possible with wind farms. One wind turbine powers thousands of homes and has a footprint smaller than my house. The land around the wind turbine can’t be used for housing but it can be used for livestock, farming, or even mining. No other power plant can say that.”
More Reliable Electricity
Finally, wind turbines make our electricity system more reliable. Thanks to their advanced power electronics, wind turbine plants can withstand voltage and frequency disturbances much better than conventional power plants, which makes the grid less susceptible to blackouts.
“Grid operators love wind turbines because they can instantly turn their power output up or down with a click of a mouse,” Van Slyke adds.