Farming the Air

March 8, 2010

Using wind power is nothing new. In fact, it is quite old. But thirty years ago, manufacturers from Denmark started serial production of wind turbines and since then, the production of energy from this renewable energy has grown exponentially. Here are some facts, numbers and anecdotes of the current state and future of this renewable energy.


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© Danish Wind Industry Association.

As of May 2009, eighty countries around the world are using wind power on a commercial basis.

In 2009, the current amount of wind turbines operating have a total nameplate capacity of 157,899 MW of which wind power in Europe accounts for 48%.

World wind generation capacity more than quadrupled between 2000 and 2006, doubling about every three years.

81% of wind power installations are in the US and Europe.

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© Danish Wind Industry Association.

The first deep-water, large-capacity, floating wind turbine is being built by StatoilHydro. The 2.3 MW turbine can be anchored in water 120–700 m deep. It will be tested off the coast of Norway for two years.

In Denmark by 1900, there were about 2,500 windmills for mechanical loads such as pumps and mills, producing an estimated combined peak power of about 30 MW.

Spain has over 18,000 MW of turbines installed, out of a total power generation capacity of about 93,000 MW.

On December 30, 2009, wind turbines in Spain supplied a new record of 54.1 percent of demand, forcing gas and coal-fired power plants to run at minimum output to avoid system overload as hydropower companies drained brimming reservoirs.

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© Danish Wind Industry Association.

The wind turbine fleet in place in the US at the end of 2009 (35 GW) is enough to power 9.7 million homes, and that number is increasing at 1 million homes every five months.

A report by National Renewable Energy Laboratory found “current wind technology deployed in non-environmentally protected areas could generate 37,000,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity per year.” In comparison, the United States currently uses 3,000,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity each year.

A report from the US Department of Energy claims that wind turbines could generate 300 gigawatts by 2030, which would power about 20 percent of the US electrical grid.

After decades investing in oil, T. Boone Pickens now envisions putting up 2,500 turbines in Texas to generate 4,000 megawatts of energy—enough to power 1.3 million homes.

The biggest wind farm in the world is Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center in Texas, spreading across 47,000 acres with 421 wind turbines that generate a total capacity of 735 MW.

Texas produces the most wind power of any US state.

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© Danish Wind Industry Association.

Modern wind turbines, which are currently being deployed around the world, have three-bladed rotors with diameters of 70 m. to 80 m. mounted atop 60-m. to 80-m. towers.

Wind turbine blades have grown from about 8 m. long in 1980 to more than 40 m. for many land-based commercial systems and more than 60 m. for offshore applications today.

Generally, a turbine will start producing power in winds of about 5.36 m/s and reach maximum power output at about 12.52 m/s–13.41 m/s.

Matilda was a wind turbine located on Gotland, Sweden. It produced a total of 61.4 GW·h in the 15 years it was active. That is more renewable energy than any other single wind power turbine had ever produced to that date. It was demolished on June 6, 2008.

The largest turbine currently in operation is the Enercon E126, with a rotor diameter of 126 meters and a power capacity of 6 MW.

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© Danish Wind Industry Association.

Wind energy has grown into an important player in the world’s energy markets, with the 2008 market for turbine installations worth about €36.5bn.

According to the GWEC scenario, the annual value of global investment in wind energy would reach €149.4 bn by 2020 and account for over 2.2 million jobs.

In 2006, the price paid for electricity generated in large wind farms was between 3.0 and 6.5 cents/kilowatt-hour (kWh), with an average near 5 cents/kWh.

Philippe Starck’s Democratic Ecology windmill can generate 20-60% of the energy needed to power a home, at a price point of around 400 Euros ($633).

According to the Global Wind Energy Council, the world’s wind power capacity grew by 31% in 2009, adding 37.5 GW to bring total installations up to 157.9 GW. A third of these additions were made in China, which experienced a growth of over 100%.

Having more than doubled its installed wind power capacity each year from 2005-2009, China grew its wind power faster on a percentage basis than any other large country.