HOW IS WIND FORMED?When the sun hits the earth the air of our atmosphere warms up. The warm air at the tropics wants to move "up" into the northern and southern latitudes. While at the same time cold air wants to move "down" towards the equator. All this air moving around is wind. Wind is a type of stored up solar energy. Ancient Egyptians used wind to push boats up and down the Nile as early as 5000 BC. Ancient Chinese wind mills pumped water. The American west was first covered with wind mills to pump water, and then later with turbines to provide power before rural electrification. The wind has been used for a LONG time to help us do work.
WHAT IS WIND POWER?
The energy from the wind can be captured in several different ways. The most common today is the wind turbine. Wind turbines look like big pinwheels. These turbines are called horizontal axle wind turbines. The turbine works in much the way a sail does. The blades of the turbine catch the wind, and are shaped in such a way, that they begin to turn the rotor. This, then turns an axle that is attached to a generator. The generator spins and produces electricity.
WHAT IS A WIND FARM?
When you place a whole bunch of turbines in one spot you get a wind "farm". These large installations are capable of producing very large amounts of energy. The benefit of creating a wind farm is that it allows a company to sell power to an area at a fixed rate over a long period of time. The wind is always going to be the same price. So unlike oil, which only goes up in price over time, wind will always be free. Of course the cost to harvest the wind is not free, but imagine if the price of gas was fixed forever...now you see why wind farms make sense.
WHAT ARE SOME MYTHS ABOUT WIND POWER?
"Wind is unpredictable and because of that is not a good power source!"
Wind power IS unpredictable, but only long periods of time. We are able to predict with a high level of accuracy the wind for the next couple of days, and that is good enough. The power companies only need to know what your production levels will be for the next two days. Then they can insert you in there price bidding scheme for that two day period, and adjust accordingly. Other sources of power (coal, oil, nuclear) do the exact same thing. There is no guarantee that the level of power the coal power plant near you can put out today will be the level of power they can put out in two days.
"Wind turbines are loud!"
Modern wind turbines are NOT loud. Modern turbines are almost silent, and the only time they make elevated levels of noise is, you guessed it, when the wind is blowing very hard. During such high wind events it is impossible to hear them over the sound of the wind.
"Wind turbines kill billions of birds and bats!"
Wind turbines DO kill birds and bats. But if properly sighted they kill about 1 bird/bat per year. Cell phone towers, cars, house cats, and large glass windows all kill more birds per year Incidentally the emissions from coal and oil power plants have been known to weaken bird egg shells and kill them.
"Wind turbines don't produce enough power!"
The newest turbines are capable of producing 5 MW of power EACH! One of these types of turbines produces enough energy to power 750-1400 homes (depending on energy use). Most turbines are much smaller than 5MW (1.5-3MW) and are grouped together in large farm providing large amounts of electricity.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF WIND?
The benefits of wind are many, here is a short list of the larger ones. Wind energy is clean, it doesn't produce emissions or use toxic chemicals to produce its power. That means less smog, less acid rain, less pollution, less asthma, and fewer preventable deaths. Its cheap and getting cheaper. The cost of wind energy has fallen 80% or more in the last 20 years. Mostly due to the advances in turbine design. It is also the fastest growing energy industry in the world. With a 20% a year growth rate, wind energy is taking off. Wind power helps us kick the habit of foreign oil. Wind energy is also renewable. So long as there is sun there will be wind. The wind resources in the upper mid west of America have been described as the "Saudi Arabia" of wind. With enough wind to power over 40% of the country if only developed. With all the positive things about wind power, clearly the answer really is blowing in the wind.