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A little background on wind power

Kinetic energy generated by air currents -wind- can be transformed into electricity through the conversion of wind turbine movement into electricity. It is a renewable energy that doesn’t produce contamination.

Wind power has been used since antiquity in transportation (ships) and as the driving force to move the gears of mills and, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, to run the first factories.

Today, wind power is transformed into electricity thanks to the use of wind turbines: the wind moves a propeller and, by means of a mechanical system, causes the motor of a generator to rotate. To make their installation and use profitable, wind turbines are usually grouped together in so-called wind farms, constructed in locations favorable to their use.

In 2005, the energy capacity of all of the world’s electric turbines was 58,982 megawatts. Although only 1% of the electricity consumed in the world is produced from wind power, in some countries this method represents a much higher percentage of total consumption: in Denmark, it is 25%.

Spain, home to some of the largest international companies, produces 9% of its energy with wind turbines; followed by Germany, at 6%. Worldwide, energy production by means of wind generators quadrupled between 1999 and 2005.

Wind power gained popularity in the 80s and 90s. At the turn of the century, the cost of producing electricity with wind farms decreased worldwide.

Here are some of the advantages of wind power:

  • It is a clean, renewable energy that does not emit greenhouse gases since it doesn’t require any type of combustion.
  • It can be integrated into electric systems allowing energy savings from power stations and hydroelectric power stations, thereby saving fossil fuels or water stored in reservoirs.
  • It can put to use lands that are unproductive for any other type of industry, such as mountainous or desert zones, infertile land, hills with too much incline, etc.
  • Wind power can coexist with other uses of the land (cattle raising, low-lying crops like wheat, beets, corn, etc).
  • Its use combined with other types of energy, such as solar, affords an energy autonomy to buildings.

Nevertheless, the dimensions of the blades of the most commonly used wind turbines, as well as the large size of some wind farms, are cause of controversy. Numerous independent environmental organizations and administrations are studying the environmental impact of these types of installations.

Among the most common criticisms of the convenience of wind power as a substantial alternative to other methods of wide-scale electricity production are:

  • Despite intensive studies on the environmental impact of these installations, wind farms exist in nature preserves.
  • The most appropriate place for their installation usually coincides with the migratory routes of birds. Although wind turbines often invade the space of birds and bats, some studies have found that loss of life is low in comparison with other causes, like collision with buildings and windows, or high-tension cables.
  • The opening of trails and the presence of wind farm operators increases the human pressure on environments unaccustomed to human activity, which affects the ecosystem.
  • Wind turbines depend on persistent gusts of wind to guarantee profit.

The European Union leading the way

Wind power systems have been developed mostly in Denmark, Spain and Germany. According to a EUWINet study, the European wind power market is growing 35% annually. Member countries contribute 75% of the world’s wind power. In the EU, the wind market has generated more than 25,000 jobs.

In 2005 the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) was launched in Brussels, in order to promote the development of this type of renewable energy. Members of this organization include the EU, Australia, Canada, China, Japan, India and the United States.

  • More information on wind power, in Wikipedia.