It’s been 51 years since singer-songwriter-poet Bob Dylan famously sang “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,” and while it’s probably not what he was talking about, with supplies of traditional energy fuels like oil running low or inconsistent, the demand for renewable energy has grown dramatically since the early 1960s.
While some look to the sun and solar power for answers, perhaps the answer really is blowing in the wind. Wind power has, after all, increased more than 25 percent a year over the past decade.
What is Wind Power?
Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into electricity or another useful form of energy. It’s like solar power, but instead of harnessing the limitless energy of the sun to generate electricity, wind power uses the wind.
There are now more than 200,000 wind turbines operating worldwide, making wind energy the fastest-growing source of power in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, wind power now represents 43 percent of all new electric generation capacity in 2012.
While solar power may be more widely accepted and understood than wind power, the truth is that wind and sun are inextricably linked. Wind exists because of the sun. When the sun strikes the earth, convection currents are created in the atmosphere which creates wind and a golden opportunity for power.
For this reason, over 13 gigawatts of new wind power capacity were added to the U.S. grid in 2012. That’s nearly double the wind capacity from the year prior. By the end of 2012, this growth exceeded 60 gigawatts of total capacity, enough to power all the homes in the states of California and Washington combined. Nine states now rely on wind for more than 12 percent of their total annual energy consumption, and in Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas, wind provides more than 20 percent.
Is Wind Power Reliable?
Wind is a clean source of renewable energy that produces no air or water pollution. Since the wind is free, operational costs are nearly zero once a turbine is erected. Mass production and technology advances are making turbines cheaper and governments are offering tax incentives to spur wind-energy development. You could say wind power has a bright future, but is it reliable?
Choosing the right location is essential. Placing a wind turbine in a location that does not have sufficient wind would be like putting a solar panel beneath a shady tree. Just as there are sunless days, there are windless days, as well, which makes utilizing both make sense.
Wind and the Future
Bob Dylan predicted the answer was blowing in the wind and now many industry experts agree, going so far as to estimate that the answer to one third of the world’s electricity may be found blowing in the wind by 2050.
— By Tim Alan