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Energy resources: Wind energy


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Energy from sources other than fossil or nuclear fuels is to a large extent free of the concerns about environmental effects and renewability that characterise those two sources. Each alternative source supplies energy continually, whether or not we use it. Many alternative sources of energy have been used in simple ways for millennia, e.g. wind and water mills, sails, wood burning – but only in the last two centuries has their potential begun to be exploited on an industrial scale. Except for geothermal energy, all have their origins in energy generated outside the Earth, yet the potential of each is limited by its total supply set against its rate of use. Each is likely to be renewable in the sense that the available rates of supply of each exceed those at which they are used. The main concern is whether or not such alternatives can supplant fossil- and nuclear-fuel use to power social needs fast enough to avoid the likelihood of future global warming and other kinds of pollution.

One of the alternative sources to consider is wind energy.

Wind energy was the fastest growing power source at the start of the 21st century, yet wind-driven mills and pumps, and nautical sails for transport were, along with waterwheels, the first mechanical devices to power industrial production. The advantages of harnessing wind energy are obvious; it is free, clean and widely available. Although a favoured source of 'green' energy, the increasing deployment of wind turbines where they are most efficient, on hilltops and coasts, together with their increasing size had led to outcries because of their impact on landscapes.

Power output from wind turbines is proportional to the area swept by their blades, and to the cube of wind speed. The narrow range of useable wind speedds restricts the areas where wind energy can be exploited. Wind power has great potential but some drawbacks. This unit explores the wind as a potential source of useable energy.

This unit is from our archive and is an adapted extract from Earth's physical resources: origin, use and environmental impact (S278) which is no longer taught by The Open University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this subject area [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .