Essay Preview: Wind Energy
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Have you ever been driving down the interstate or down a local highway and seen something that looks like an airplane wing on the back of a semi-trailer? If yes, that was most likely a propeller for a wind turbine. It was seeing one of these lying on a semi-trailer that had initially sparked my enthusiasm for wind energy. Now that I live in Grand Forks, there is at least a steady 10 mph breeze daily. As I walk to class every morning, whether it is Fall, Winter, or Spring, there is always one thing that is ever present; the wind is always blowing in my face. The same thing everyday I walk to class, wind in my face, and then when I walk back the wind is blowing in the other direction into my face once again. The wind is going to be a major factor some way or another in my everyday life while living in North Dakota, especially Grand Forks. I wanted to research what wind energy is, how it works, its growth and use, and its economic and industrial potential in North Dakota. North Dakota being a flat and windy constantly has a very high potential for wind energy production. Because of its high potential and economic benefits I am completely and totally in agreement for the expansion and pursuit of wind turbines, wind farms, and anything to do with wind energy in North Dakota.
Wind is one of natureÐ²Ð‚™s most abundant resources and is a form of solar energy. The winds of earth are caused primarily by unequal heating of the earthÐ²Ð‚™s surface by the sun. During the day, the air over the oceans and lakes basically remains cool, since most of the sunÐ²Ð‚™s energy is absorbed in evaporating water, or is absorbed by the water itself. Over land, the air is heated mostly during the day since the land absorbs less sunlight than the water, and evaporation process is less. The heated air over land expands, becomes lighter, and then rises. The cooler, heavier air from over the water moves in to replace it and that is how most shoreline breezes are created.
During the night, these local seashore breezes reverse themselves, since the land cools more rapidly than the water, so does the air around it. The cool air blows seaward to replace the warm air that rises from the surface of the water. Similar local breezes occur on mountainsides during the day as heated air rises along the warm slopes heated by the sun. During the night, the relatively cool heavy air on the slopes flows down into valleys (Andersen 13-22).
Likewise, circulating planetary winds are caused by the increase of heating of the earthÐ²Ð‚™s surface near the equator more than the poles. This causes cold surface winds to blow from the poles to the equator to replace the hot air that rises in the tropics and moves in the upper atmosphere toward the poles.
The rotation of the earth affects these planetary winds. The inertia in the cold air moving near the surface toward the equator tends to twist it to the west, while the warm air moving in the upper atmosphere toward the poles tend to be turned to the east. This causes large counterclockwise circulation of the air around low-pressure areas in the northern hemisphere and clockwise circulation in the southern hemisphere (Andersen 13-22).
Because of this sufficient energy being continually transferred from the sun to the earthÐ²Ð‚™s surface, the amount of air in constant circulation around the earth is estimated to be 5 quadrillion tons. If we could use 10% of this potential wind energy, we could meet all of earthÐ²Ð‚™s energy requirements easily from just that one source (Naar 33).
Present U.S. energy consumption is around 2,500 billion kWh/yr. From this power about 19% is used for heating and cooling buildings, 25% for industrial process heat, 24% for transportation, 25% for producing electricity, 5% for producing petrochemicals, and 2% for exported energy products. Current electricity sources we are relying on include oil (3%), natural gas (17%), coal (51%), hydropower (6%), and nuclear (21%); the remaining 2% is made up by synthetic fuels, oil shale, geothermal energy, solar energy, and wind energy (UND EERC V). The United States faces many challenges as it prepares to meet its energy needs in the twenty-first century. Electricity supply crises, fluctuating natural gas and gasoline prices, heightened concerns about the security of the domestic energy infrastructure and of foreign sources of supply, and uncertainties about the benefits of utility restructuring are all elements of the energy policy challenge. Wind energy is an important part of the diverse energy portfolio that is needed for a stabile, reliable energy sector in the United States.
Wind energy has been used since the earliest civilization to grind grain, pump water from deep wells, and power sailboats. Windmills in pre-industrial Europe were used for many things, including irrigation or drainage pumping, grain-grinding, saw-milling or timber, and the processing of other commodities such as spices, cocoa, paints and dyes, and tobacco. The first recorded windmills were found in the Middle East, near Persia, sometime between 2000-1000 BC. As windmills spread throughout the Islamic world, it found its way to some European countries around 500 BC. By the thirteenth century Western Europe had been fully established with the windmill, most likely by Crusaders who saw them on their travels to the Middle and Far East. Wind power had flourished through Europe until the 1800s and then coal was used as a main power source, it was easier to transport to wherever you needed power. Before the U.S. installed an infrastructure of electricity wires, both water-pumping windmills and small wind electric turbines (wind chargers) were vital to farming and developing the Great Plains and the west. Now, its main usage is for electricity production.
In recent decades, the industry has been perfecting the wind turbine to convert the power of the wind into electricity. The wind turbine has many advantages that make it an attractive energy source, especially in parts of the world where the transmission infrastructure is not fully developed. It is modular and can be installed relatively quickly, so it is easy to match electricity supply and demand. The fuel, wind, is free and plentiful, which eliminates or reduces the need to purchase, ship, and store expensive fuels. It is flexible, with the power generated, householdÐ²Ð‚™s use can use appliances, such as lighting and refrigeration, schools can use computers and televisions, and industries can access a reliable power source. Perhaps most importantly, the generator does not produce any harmful emissions in the process of generating