Clean, renewable forms of energy, such as wind power, are essential if we are to tackle climate change and slow down the effects of its predicted impacts. Wind power does not emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when generating electricity and so does not contribute to global warming and climate change, nor does it produce any dangerous waste.
The wind is abundant and a reliable energy source. The UK is the windiest country in Europe and the resource is much greater during the colder months of the year, when energy demand is at its highest.
Wind power, in combination with a full range of renewable energy technologies, such as wave, tidal, hydro and solar, could meet all of our electricity needs, reducing the need for fossil fuels and reducing the impacts of climate change.
How do wind turbines work?
Wind is a form of solar energy and it is caused by a combination of factors including: the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the earth’s surface and the rotation of the earth. Wind flow patterns are modified by the earth's terrain, bodies of water and vegetation. Humans use this wind flow or motion energy, for many purposes such as sailing, gliding, flying a kite and even generating electricity.
The terms wind energy or wind power describes the process by which the wind is used to generate electricity, as the turbines convert the kinetic energy in the wind into mechanical power. The wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft in the nacelle, which connects to a generator and converts this mechanical power into electricity.
How much CO2 can they displace?
Every unit (kWh) of electricity produced by wind power displaces a unit of electricity which would otherwise have been produced by a power station burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). This is a generally accepted fact used by many organisations, including Government, in their environmental calculations.
Wind-generated electricity does not replace electricity from nuclear power stations because they operate at 'base load'; that is they will be working for the whole time that they are available, as do most gas-fired power stations. It is the output from coal-fired power stations, which is adjusted to meet the electricity on the system. (Source: BWEA)
The production of electricity from coal, oil or gas-fired power stations produces the following greenhouse gases:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Sulphur dioxide (SO2)
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
It is these toxic emissions that are accelerating the greenhouse effect, causing climate change. Typically the following emissions are released into the atmosphere for every kilowatt-hour of electricity produced by the UK energy mix:
- 430 of CO2
- 10g of SO2
- 3g of NOx.
Using these figures it is possible to calculate the displacement of these greenhouse gas emissions that the electricity produced by a wind turbine will make. Based on a single 1MW (1000 kiWh) wind turbine with a capacity factor of 30% (i.e. they operate for 30% of the time) the displacement would be approximately 1130 tonnes of CO2 per annum.
How much is a tonne of Carbon?
1 tonne of CO2 Emissions occupies 556m3 of space at 25 degrees Celsius and standard pressure. The volume of water in an Olympic sized swimming pool is approximately 2500M3. Therefore the average household CO2 emissions in the UK (approximately 10 tonnes per year) would be enough to fill 2 Olympic sized swimming pools.