Wind on a Global Scale
April 13, 2011
As with pretty much every great discovery, the initial use of wind power was probably accidental. Someone standing on a raft put out their arms, the air current caught their cloak and presto, the wind had been harnessed.
Initially, using the wind was more a case of redirecting it – into sails for transportation, through ducts and pipes for ventilation. Later, some enterprising person figured out how to power machines, like water pumps and grain mills with the wind.
It wasn’t until 1887 that a Scotsman named James Blyth first used wind-generated electricity to light his summer home. Later the same year, Charles F. Brush made a horizontal axis wind turbine that powered his house and laboratory in Cleveland, Ohio.
Left: James Blyth’s vertical axis wind turbine Right: Charles Brush’s horizontal axis wind turbine.
Wind powered generators grew in popularity, primarily on farms or isolated buildings not connected to the grid. Capacities of these early generators was usually in the range of five to 10 kilowatts.
In the late 1970s, capacities increased to 20 to 30 kilowatts and the market expanded, especially in Europe. In 1980, the first wind farm was built in New Hampshire and comprised 20 30-kilowatt turbines. However, the project failed because of design errors. Never the less, it paved the way for successful projects soon after. The largest on shore wind farm in the world is the Bigelow Canyon Wind Farm in Oregon. The project consists of 217 wind turbines with a combined installed capacity of 450 megawatts. The site covers 100 square kilometres.
The first offshore wind farm was constructed at Vindeby, Denmark. It consists of 11 450-kilowatt turbines with a combined installed capacity of 4.95 megawatts. The largest offshore wind farm is Thanet, off the southeast coast of England. Covering 35 square kilometres, it comprises 100 three-megawatt turbines with a combined installed capacity of 300 megawatts.
Thanet Offshore Wind Farm Image: Vattenfall
The total global installed capacity is more than 200,000 megawatts, and individual turbine capacity has risen to seven megawatts. The top five producers are the United States (28.3 per cent), Germany (14.4 per cent), Spain (13.9 per cent), China (10.0 per cent) and India (6.1 per cent). Canada ranks 13 overall with 1.4 per cent.
In Denmark, wind generation accounts for 18.7 per cent of total electricity generation. Portugal ranks second with 15.5 per cent and Spain ranks third with 12.6 per cent. In Canada, wind power contributes less than one per cent of total electricity generation.