In May 2021, the Vineyard Wind project made headlines as the US Department of the Interior’s first “large-scale, offshore wind farm project in the United States.”
This project was expected to generate 3,600 jobs and provide enough power for 400,000 homes and businesses.
While the Vineyard Wind project is the first of its kind in the U.S., it’s expected to be followed by many other projects.
It’s helping to kick off the offshore wind sector, and it’s a huge moment for building wind farms in general.
As we recognize this achievement, let’s talk about wind farms more generally.
What are they?
How do they work?
Are they feasible as smaller operations?
Here’s what you should know if you’re interested in wind farms.
1. What is a wind farm?
A wind farm is a group of wind turbines in the same location that is used to produce electricity.
Wind farms vary in size from a small number of turbines to several hundred wind turbines covering an extensive area.
They can be either onshore or offshore.
2. How does wind energy work?
Before you can understand the nuances of a wind farm, you must first understand wind energy.
Here are the basics.
The kinetic energy of wind is used to create mechanical power.
A generator then converts this power into electricity so that it may be used for the benefit of mankind.
3. How do wind turbines work?
A wind turbine turns wind energy into electricity using the aerodynamic force from the rotor blades.
These blades work like an airplane wing or helicopter rotor blade in that the difference in air pressure between the two sides of the blade causes it to rotate.
As the large blades of the wind turbine turn, they spin an internal rotor.
This rotor is connected to a generator which produces electricity.
4. How are wind turbines used?
Historically, wind power has been used to grind corn, pump water, etc.
In fact, the Dutch used wind turbines (i.e. windmills) to drain the lakes and marshes of their country’s lowlands.
Today, we primarily use wind turbines to generate electricity.
5. What are the different types of wind turbines?
There are two major types of wind turbines:
Horizontal-axis turbines: This is the classic “wind turbine” that most people will think of.
They have three blades and operate “upwind” with the turbine pivoting at the top of the tower so that the blade faces into the wind.
Vertical-axis turbines: Vertical-axis turbines appear a bit differently and come in several varieties.
This includes the eggbeater-style Darrieus model, which is named after the French inventor.
These wind turbines are omnidirectional, meaning they don’t need to point in the direction of the wind in order to operate correctly.
6. What are the different types of wind farms?
Modern wind turbines are categorized by the way wind turbines are installed and how they are connected to the grid.
Here are the three categories:
Land-based: This type of wind turbine ranges in size from 100 kilowatts to several megawatts.
They are more cost-effective and are often grouped together into wind plants.
Wind plants provide bulk power to the electrical grid.
Offshore: Offshore wind turbines are massive (taller than the statue of liberty).
Their large components can be transported on ships instead of on roads, which means they do not have the same transportation challenges as land-based wind turbines.
Offshore turbines generate vast amounts of powerful ocean winds and generate immense energy.
Distributed: Wind turbines are classified as distributed if they are installed on the “customer” side of the electric meter or if they are installed at or near the place where the energy will be used.
They can be of any size; although, many distributed wind turbines are small.
Often, this are single small wind turbines (below 100 kilowatts) that are used for residential, agricultural, and small commercial and industrial applications.
Small turbines like this can be used in hybrid energy systems with other distributed energy resources like microgrids powered by diesel generators, batteries, and photovoltaics.
These systems are called hybrid wind systems.
They are typically used in remote and off-grid locations.
7. What are the differences between onshore and offshore wind farms?
There are two types of large wind farms: onshore wind farms and offshore wind farms.
Here’s what you should know about each.
Onshore wind farms are a grouping of wind turbines in a windy area on land
In this scenario, each turbine will sit atop a large steel tube (called a tower) that gets exposed to the wind blowing at high speeds.
A series of blades will spin on the axis of the turbine when the wind blows over them.
Offshore wind farms are collections of wind turbines located in water
Offshore wind farms are often built in the ocean, lakes, fjords, etc. where wind speeds are strong enough.
These farms will generally experience higher wind speeds due to their locations, and as a result, they are capable of harnessing significant power.
That said, it can be difficult to build them in the middle of large bodies of water, and thus they tend to be more expensive than onshore wind farms.
The first offshore wind farm in the US was completed off the coast of Rhode Island in December 2016.
There’s another offshore farm that is off the coast of New Jersey.
It is still currently under construction.
The more this technology is used, the cheaper it will be, and the more it will make sense to use it because of the tremendous power potential.
8. How much of our energy comes from wind power?
According to the US Energy Information Administration, wind energy was the source of about 8.4 percent of total U.S. electricity generation and about 43 percent of electricity generation from renewable energy in 2021.
However, some states generate a significant amount of their energy from wind.
For example, Iowa produces nearly 60% of its energy in this manner.
9. How many wind farms are there in the US?
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), the US has approximately 1,000 utility-scale wind projects, which present 74,512 megawatts (MW) and over 48,800 wind turbines installed across 40 US states plus Puerto Rico and Guam.
This means that the US has roughly enough wind energy capacity to generate power for 15 million homes.
10. Are wind farms noisy?
It’s a real fear people have when they hear that a wind farm will be built near their residential region.
However, it’s typically unfounded.
The truth is that wind turbines are generally pretty quiet considering how large they are.
They are normally built roughly 300 meters from any residential housing, and at that distance, the turbine will generate a sound pressure level of 43 decibels.
How loud are 43 decibels you may wonder?
Right now a mid-size window AC unit generates sound pressure levels of 50 decibels.
If you were to walk up to a wind turbine, it would sound as though you were standing next to a gas-powered lawnmower (105 decibels).
Offshore wind farms resolve this issue because of how far away they are from any residences.
11. What happens to the local environment where a wind farm is built?
Wind energy is considered environmentally sound and 100% clean.
However, that doesn’t mean that there are no ecological concerns surrounding wind farms.
Most of these concerns relate to the death of birds and bats that run into the rotors.
However, there are ways that wind farms can try to offset this concern.
12. Are wind farms expensive?
Wind farms can be quite costly to set up.
In fact, on average, wind power development costs around $1 million per megawatt (MW) of generating capacity installed.
Unfortunately, while their cost is competitive with other types of generating systems, it isn’t necessarily predictable how much energy they’ll generate.
Ultimately, this means that wind farms can’t always meet electricity needs on-demand.
13. How much land is required for wind farms?
If you’re considering installing a wind farm on land you own, there are a few critical elements you must be aware of.
There are land requirements you must observe before you can install a wind farm.
To start, the amount of land required for a wind farm varies considerably based on two key factors.
One of these factors is the desired size of the wind farm.
The size can be defined by either installed capacity or the number of turbines.
Generally, the more turbines you need, the more land you need.
The other factor is the characteristics of the local terrain.
Usually, wind turbine spacing is determined by the rotor diameter and local wind conditions.
Estimates suggest spacing turbines between 5 and 10 rotor diameters apart.
If prevailing winds are generally from the same direction, then your turbines may need to be installed 3 or 4 rotor diameters apart (in the direction perpendicular to the prevailing winds).
Finally, under multi-directional wind conditions, spacing of between 5 to 7 rotor diameters is recommended.
14. What are the advantages of wind energy?
The main advantages of wind energy are that it’s a resource that’s…
Free, unlimited, renewable resource: Because it’s naturally occurring, you can harvest the kinetic energy of wind without affecting the currents or wind cycles in any way.
Clean: Harvesting wind is environmentally friendly.
It doesn’t pollute the environment in order to generate electricity.
This is unlike other types of power plants which emit air pollutants and greenhouse gases.
Has economic value: Wind power has the ability to free the US from the economic bondage of fossil fuels.
Current strains on the supply of fossil fuels are likely to increase the prices of fossil fuel resources and leave the US economy exposed to international market volatility.
Placement: Wind turbines can be placed wherever necessary.
Often, research will be performed to find areas that have adequate wind and experts may place the turbines in highly desired areas (unpopulated, offshore, etc.).
Offshore winds tend to blow harder and more uniformly than onshore wind turbines.
Wind turbines can also be built in existing farms or ranches, which boosts the economy in rural areas.
Low maintenance cost: The cost of maintaining turbines and generating wind power is next to nothing.
Job creation. The U.S. wind sector employs more than 100,000 workers.
In fact, a wind turbine technician is one of the fastest-growing jobs in America.
By 2050, the wind energy industry has the potential to support an additional 600,000 jobs in manufacturing installation, maintenance, and supporting services.
15. What are the disadvantages of wind energy?
While the advantages make wind energy a tempting option, that doesn’t mean it’s all good!
Here are the disadvantages of wind energy.
Initial cost: Constructing turbines and wind energy is extremely expensive.
Technology immaturity: New technology is needed to lower the costs of both construction and maintenance of wind turbines.
This would help increase reliability and energy production as well as solve regional deployment issues, expand the resource area, develop infrastructure, and manufacturing facilities, and mitigate known environmental impacts.
Aesthetic impact: Some people are concerned about the impact of wind turbines on the scenery around them.
They believe that the giant wind turbines distract from the surroundings.
Wildlife: Wind turbines can be dangerous to flying animals like bats and birds.
Still, experts are working to learn how to reduce the impact of wind turbines on birds and marine animals.
In fact, something as simple as painting the turbines a different color could prevent wildlife deaths.
Remoteness of location: While offshore turbines do collect quite a bit of energy, the cost of travel and maintenance on the turbines can be high.
Noise: Depending on your tolerance, wind turbines do make some noise when you are close to them.
You may not want them in your backyard.
However, if the turbines are offshore this shouldn’t be an issue.
Safety at sea: In the darkness of night, it can be difficult for incoming boats to see wind turbines.
This creates worries about collisions.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, cumulative wind power capacity has increased by an average of 30 percent per year in the last decade.
This means that wind energy accounts for about 2.5 percent of the total worldwide electricity production.
Simply put, wind power has huge potential in the market, and harnessing wind energy can be done almost anywhere.
If you’re a farmer or rancher, consider this as an option to generate your own energy.
You can do it in the same manner as people with solar panels.
We’ll start seeing it emerge in the residential market as well!
While it is an expensive start-up cost, you’ll soon see it pay off.
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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.