Going with the Wind:
Wind Energy Potentials

Hari Srinivas

Global environmental problems related to energy issues such as climate change or global warming have motivated us to explore the use of renewable energy sources and technologies in the last two decades. Wind energy has emerged as a promising renewable energy source for future sustainable development, and has received wide attention around the world.

After the Oil Crisis of the 1970s, many countries have taken many efforts to reduce dependence on oil and to find renewable/non-polluting energy resources. Wind energy technology has been one such alternative, and has been used intensively in northern Europe, especially Denmark and Germany. As a result of these efforts, current levels of wind technology enables the production of electricity and other forms of energy seek for energy alternatives to oil. As of August 1999, 10,000 MW of wind power generation has been installed all over the world and, in Europe, wind electricity is foreseen to supply 10 to 20 percent of domestic electricity consumption by 2030.

The rapid industrial growth of the last four decades has had positive impacts in the overall socio-economic position of a vast majority of humanity, but long-term and indirect negative impacts of that growth, such as climate change, global warming, loss of biodiversity, desertification and other environmental ills, is only now being felt. This is particularly true on the energy front, where the dependence on fossil and carbon-based fuels has had negative impacts of its own on the environment. It has also highlighted the finite nature of such energy sources.

One feasible alternative that has shown great promise is solar/hydrogen-based energy. It utilizes sources of energy such as wind power, solar cells, hydropower, and direct sunlight to produce energy that has a 'small footprint' on the environment.

Thus, along with greater awareness and understanding of the impacts of human activity on the global environment has come the need for climate-benign sources of energy. An energy policy for a sustainable future will need to be based on high levels of energy efficiency and greater use of renewable energy.

Wind energy is not new - water and windmills have powered the first industries more than 2000 years ago. But modern wind turbines built with new technologies and new materials have demonstrated success in generating clean electricity that we all need for lighting, heating, refrigerators, and other appliances.

Research on mapping of wind speeds over time have shown that there is enough overland wind globally so that windmills erected at strategic points worldwide would produce three times the electricity consumed in 1990.

Wind energy makes environmental and economic sense. (a) it makes environmental sense because it causes no pollution in operation, unlike coal or gas which contribute to acid rain and global warming, and it creates no hazardous wastes (unlike nuclear power); and (b) it makes economic sense because the costs of most forms of energy are rising, while the costs of wind energy are coming down.

Wind energy is a proven success. Over 20,000 turbines are producing electricity world-wide. The EU has called for an increase in the contribution of renewable energy sources from four percent to eight percent of total energy demand by 2005. Wind energy will play a major part in achieving this target and is assisting in reducing CO2 emissions. The wind energy industry has set a goal for 40,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity by the year 2010.

Wind energy is emerging as a cornerstone of the new energy system. Denmark gets eight percent of its electricity from wind. For Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state of Germany, the figure is 11 percent. Navarra, an industrial state in Spain, gets 20 percent of its electricity from Wind. Many states in the US are also using wind energy as more wind farms are going online. Within the developing world, India, with 900 megawatts of wind energy generating capacity is a leader in the field. China began operation in 1998 of its first commercial wind farm - a 24-megawatt project in Inner Mongolia.

But much more needs to be done. Generation of electricity and other forms of energy from wind have faced several barriers in terms of the spread of wind turbine and related technologies, the unreliability of the amount of wind generated, higher costs per unit generated, and its integration into existing systems of electricity storage and transmission.

The future success for wind energy will largely depend on putting in place, an enabling policy environment. This policy environment will provide incentives for the generation of wind-based energy. There is a need for -

  • strong research and development for increased energy generation capacities and better technologies - both in terms of integration into exiting power networks and decentralized and local generation of power
  • support from the national and regional governments in the form of subsidies for wind-energy utility companies, wind-energy promotion policies, tax breaks, and other forms of incentives
  • awareness building and education on the long-term and indirect benefits of wind energy, including consumer pressures on utility companies to buy wind-generated electricity.

Please send comments and suggestions to - Hari Srinivas at hsrinivas@gdrc.org
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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org