The world has never been short of wind. For thousands of years it has turned windmills, flown kites, cooled houses and filled sails. Now, technological advances are breathing new life into our use of wind power as a clean, renewable, cost-effective means of generating electricity.
HISTORY OF WIND ENERGY TO DATE
Over the last few decades, wind power has rarely been used as means of generating electricity. In 1996, the worldwide capacity of wind turbines was approximately 6 gigawatts, contributing less than 1 percent to the total global electrical generation capacity. However, the wind energy industry is continually growing at a rapid rate. Much of the growth is in European countries such as Holland, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Germany. Denmark, for example, currently obtains about 5 percent of its electricity from wind turbines and aims to increase this to 40 percent by 2030. Interest in wind power is also rapidly growing in countries such as India and China, while Australia is also beginning to pay increasing attention to the concept. Renewable energy (such as wind energy) currently provides about 10.5 percent of Australia's electricity generation. Still, Australia has plans for further supply from renewable energy sources, but this depends upon legislation, which will commit electricity suppliers to use an additional 2 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2010. Clearly, interest in wind energy has grown significantly in the past few years.
WHY THE RECENT INTEREST?
There are probably two main reasons for the increasing interest in wind power. First, most electricity generated today uses non-renewable fuels such as coal, oil and gas. These contribute vast quantities of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, which cause an enhanced greenhouse effect, leading to a warming of the Earth's atmosphere. Also, since wind is a renewable resource, it can not run out, so eliminating the possibility of the electrical industry being forced to discover and utilize a new energy source. Secondly, advances in wind power science and technology are reducing the cost of wind power rapidly, making it almost competitive with many other energy sources (at about 8 to 10 cents per kilowatt hour). The world has long been searching for a non-polluting, renewable source of energy that is as inexpensive as coal and oil, and wind energy seems to provide this.
AUSTRALIA: ENTERING THE 21ST CENTURY
The Australian government, along with industry and consumers, realizes the importance of sustainable development in the electrical provision area. Although Australia is a major exporter of coal, individual Australian companies are recognizing that improved environmental performance is part of their corporate and social responsibility. Many Australian industries have undertaken voluntary environmental reporting measures as a move towards more positive environmental outcomes in the new millennium. Current efforts towards deregulation of the natural gas and electricity industries may further foster environmental stewardship, as companies promote themselves as being environmentally conscious within their marketing efforts.
A significant motive for environmental improvements in Australia will occur with clarification of the federal government's stance on environmental issues. Currently, many vital business projects are being delayed while the federal government comes to consensus on the place of renewable energy in Australia's energy mix. The Australian government's lack of consensus on taxation and environmental issues has threatened several oil and gas projects, including the North West Shelf expansion, Gorgon gasfield development, Bayu Undan, PNG Gas Pipeline, Methanex's Syngas facility in Darwin and Duke Energy's Bass Strait Pipeline.
Australia will obviously be a key player in any international discussions regarding climate change. Although Australia contributed only 1.4 percent of the world's total energy-related carbon emissions in 1998, the capacity of Australia's forests and agricultural lands to absorb carbon dioxide places the country in the center of any discussions regarding environmental effects. The Australian government further emphasized recently its commitment to carbon sequestration through a $400-million greenhouse gas abatement program that was scheduled to begin on July 1, 2000, and primarily focused on taking advantage of sequestration opportunities over the next four years. Australian Cabinet has also has endorsed a $900-million measure to facilitate a greener Australia in the 21st century. Initiatives include financial incentives to encourage commercial vehicle operators to convert from gasoline to cleaner alternative fuels and guidelines to improve the recycling of waste oil, clearly highlighting Australia s commitment to environmentally friendly energy sources.
THE FUTURE FOR AUSTRALIA
Although the generation of electricity from wind turbines has been economically marginal for many years, the future looks quite optimistic following the development of large-scale systems in Australia. Improved subsystem technologies, the move towards mass production and installation experience are all serving to reduce costs significantly and wind turbines have become competitive with conventional-fuelled systems in some geographical areas.
Until recently, small-scale power generation in remote areas, was mainly supplied through liquidfuelled systems. Many remote area power supplies (RAPS) combining wind and photovoltaics with diesel backup are now being installed. In the future, it appears that with reducing costs, photovoltaics may displace wind at lower power levels, in areas with good insolation. The outlook for large gridconnected wind farms is also promising, with several utilities operating wind monitoring stations at the present moment.
WIND FARMS IN AUSTRALIA
In October 2000, a new wind farm opened at Blayney, west of Bathurst NSW, the fruit of a joint project from Pacific Power and Advance Energy. Careful monitoring and analysis over several years by The CSIRO Wind Energy Research Unit determined the best location and layout of the turbines, that being Blayney. The farm consists of 15 turbines and is of 10 megawatts capacity, twice the size of the existing Crookwell wind farm, which was previously the largest wind farm. The Crookwell farm in NSW consists of eight 600 kilowatt turbines generating a total of 4.8 megawatts. There are also a number of other large-scale wind farms in Australia, another is Western Powers Ten Mile Lagoon farm located near Esperance on the south coast of Western Australia which has nine 225 kilowatt wind turbines, generating a total of 2 megawatts. The additional 10 megawatts recently installed in Blanley has doubled Australia s installed capacity of wind generation to 20 megawatts.
However, Australia's biggest wind-powered electricity generating system is to be built by state-owned utility Western Power near Albany in Western Australia. This wind farm will cost $45 million, and will begin production by next July. It will contain 12 turbines on 65 meter towers producing a collective 22 megawatts of power. There are claims the new station will produce enough electricity for 17,000 homes, or 75 percent of Albany's electrical requirements.
The current locations and specifications for other large turbine installations (and planned installations) within Australia can be seen in the table on the next page.
Location State Capacity
- New South Wales 10MW
- Crookwell New South Wales 4.8MW
- Esperance Western Australia 2MW
- King Island Tasmania
- Kooragang Island New South Wales 600kW
- Thursday Island Queensland
- Western Australia 230kW
- Malabar New South Wales 150kW
- Coober Pedy South Australia 150kW
- Flinders Island Tasmania
- Breamlea Victoria
- Western Australia 28kW (48kW)
- Coconut Island Queensland 10kW
Wind energy has proven to be a viable option for electricity in many parts of the world. Continued use of this clean energy provider will result in the elimination of pollution omitted by other energy production methods. So, essentially, wind turbines possess the potential to produce much of the worlds energy needs in a responsible, economic and environmentally friendly manner.