How the Technology Works
Wind power is the use of air flow through wind turbines to mechanically power generators for electric power. Wind power, as an alternative to burning fossil fuels, is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, produces no greenhouse gas emissions during operation, consumes no water, and uses little land. The net effects on the environment are far less problematic than those of nonrenewable power sources.
Wind farms consist of many individual wind turbines which are connected to the electric power transmission network. Onshore wind is an inexpensive source of electric power, competitive with or in many places cheaper than coal or gas plants. Offshore wind is steadier and stronger than on land, and offshore farms have less visual impact, but construction and maintenance costs are considerably higher. Small onshore wind farms can feed some energy into the grid or provide electric power to isolated off-grid locations.
Wind power gives variable power which is very consistent from year to year but which has significant variation over shorter time scales. It is therefore used in conjunction with other electric power sources to give a reliable supply. As the proportion of wind power in a region increases, a need to upgrade the grid, and a lowered ability to supplant conventional production can occur. Power management techniques such as having excess capacity, geographically distributed turbines, dispatchable backing sources, sufficient hydroelectric power, exporting and importing power to neighboring areas, using vehicle-to-grid strategies or reducing demand when wind production is low, can in many cases overcome these problems. In addition, weather forecasting permits the electric power network to be readied for the predictable variations in production that occur.