Long believed by many to be one of the “purer” sources of alternative energy, and wind power projection has noted the rapid growth in the industry during recent years. The World Wind Energy Association calculates that electricity from wind accounted for 2.5% of worldwide consumption in 2010 at 430 TWh, and that this output doubled what was available only three years earlier. Many European nations, such as Spain and Denmark have begun intensive investments in wind energy and Germany is expected to be a major player following the forecasted shutdown of the nation’s nuclear industry. Outside of Europe, China has aggressively pushed wind energy in Asia and currently has the world’s largest installed wind power capacity at almost 42,000 MW.
Though many continue to advocate for wind energy as an alternative to a dependence on fossil fuels, numerous challenges still lie in the way of wind’s widespread acceptance as an energy source. Since wind is fortunately quite benign, especially when compared to the negative potential of nuclear power, safety hazards do not amount to much. However, due to its fickle nature, wind faces a substantial economic challenge wherever it is installed.
Even though there are a number of ideal “wind farm” sites worldwide, the wind is always somewhat intermittent and possibly unreliable. There is no guarantee that strong winds will blow during times of peak energy consumption, and since storage capacity (e.g. batteries) is very expensive and relatively primitive energy storage is a challenge. This forces turbine operators to dump excess energy into the power grid, often at times when the price of electricity is very low. This in turn makes the income from wind power unreliable and discourages investment in the industry, even though the technology has been proven and is now produced on a rapidly expanding scale. However, wind power projections estimate yearly growth worldwide to be 28% annually (World Wind Energy Association), and this coupled with improvements in storage technology could make wind a vital component of the global community future energy solution.