When I was taking a walk the other day and enjoying the breeze, I wondered if the wind will blow forever. More specifically, I was interested to learn if it’s possible for the earth to ever run out of wind. So, I did some research to find out how long wind energy will actually last.
How long will wind energy last? Wind is a natural and renewable source of energy. The earth has an infinite supply of wind which would make it impossible for the resource to become depleted. As long as the earth is in existence, we will be able to take energy from the wind and convert it into electricity.
Although the wind itself will never become a depleted resource, there are various factors that influence how frequently it can be used as a source of energy. These factors also determine if wind energy is a sustainable resource and how far its reach can really extend across the world.
Related: Does Wind Energy Produce Waste?
The Amount of Wind Energy That Can Really Be Used
The earth will never run out of wind because it is an infinite natural resource. Wind turbines cannot possibly soak up all the wind in the atmosphere and cause the earth to stop producing it, which we have established already.
However, there are a few circumstances in which the wind’s energy can be slowed down and limited substantially. If a large number of turbines are placed in front of the wind in one spot intaking its kinetic energy, it will be slowed down and minimized by the time it reaches the next area of wind turbines down the hill.
This happens because kinetic energy is created with movement, and when the wind’s kinetic energy is taken away some of its momenta will be taken away as well.
It is a common misconception that too many wind turbines can be directly linked to the cause of global warming. Although these claims have not been proven by scientific research, it is true that the process of wind energy could eventually make us run into problems with climate change over time if too much wind energy is used up.
Even though this is true, it will take several years for this to happen. A Nature Climate Change study did some testing on this issue and came back with the results that humans would have to use about 100 times more wind power than is used today for a real reduction in wind supply to occur.
It was predicted in the same study that wind energy will not be depleted by the earth itself running out of wind, but reasons that are caused by humans like politics and technological limitations.
The hypothetical instance of wind energy becoming an unsustainable resource is not anticipated to happen any time soon, and the world can expect to be able to survive off of wind energy for hundreds of years from now.
The Limitations of Turbines in Wind Energy Production
Although wind turbines are extremely functional and are able to produce electricity from the wind’s energy alone, there are some limits to how much they are really able to function. The earth does not always provide wind at every second of the day, so as a result wind turbines cannot constantly be generating electricity.
In fact, the average wind turbine is working to convert energy about 80 percent of the time that it is in use. Wind and weather patterns are unpredictable, and it is difficult to know how much wind there will be until very close to the time that it happens.
There is also the fact that most wind turbines are programmed to stop all functions in extreme weather conditions to avoid any damage to the structure and parts.
Although you can never be sure how the wind and weather will behave for every single day out of the year, there are formulas to help with calculating the average productivity of each wind turbine. These terms are known as the capacity number and capacity factor number.
The capacity number is calculated by multiplying the number of turbines in the area by the average capacity number. For example, if you have 10 wind turbines that all have a capacity of 5 kilowatts, the capacity number would be 50.
The capacity factor number, on the other hand, is determined by taking the average production over the given year and dividing it by the maximum capacity number. Knowing these averages for your wind turbines or wind farm can help you form realistic expectations of the amounts of energy you can account for in each given year.
Since wind patterns can be very unpredictable, a process called compressed air storage was created in order to collect energy from the wind and store it for use at a later time. This innovation is used on days where there is a lot of extra wind that is not being used, and is especially helpful at times where the wind is scarce and more energy than usual is needed.
The process of creating compressed air storage begins when the wind is collected and pumped into a cavern or tank. These storage containers are usually very large and can store millions of cubic feet of air, which is ideal for the process of keeping energy in reserves. Air pressure is then created from that wind and pumped into a generator.
The generator heats the air and passes it along to a high pressure combustion chamber that heats it to even higher temperatures. The heated air travels into a high pressure expander where it is reheated once again and enters a low pressure expander. The heated air pressure is rotated within the expanders in order to create electricity.
A World That Runs On Wind Energy
The process of collecting energy from wind is certainly more friendly to the environment than non-renewable resources like oils and gases, and prevents pollution and large percentages of premature deaths due to harmful chemicals being released into the air.
Aside from the wind energy process being more environmentally friendly than others, is it sustainable or even possible to achieve using it on such a big scale? With conservation processes such as compressed air storage, it is definitely a possibility for at least most of the earth’s energy to come from natural and renewable resources.
There are multiple countries throughout the world that have already successfully made the transition to using wind energy as their primary source of electricity. Several nations worldwide can account for 20 percent or more of their energy being extracted from natural and renewable resources.
Sweden, for example, made the goal several years ago to completely eliminate unnatural forms of energy throughout the entire country. They have made continuous efforts to stop generating electricity from fossil fuels and switch to natural energy sources including wind.
While it is true that wind energy will always be a sustainable resource that can be counted on for generations to come, there are limitations that must be considered in order to preserve this form of electricity and protect the environment as much as possible.
How Long Does a Wind Turbine Usually Last?
Each individual wind turbine has an average life span of about 20 years. This applies to most modern turbines existing today that are built with high quality materials. At least 5 more years can be added to this estimate if there has been minimal wear on the machine.
This could mean the turbine was located in a more calm climate that did not have frequent high powered winds. Although most wind turbines are programmed to use their break feature to stop functions in the event of harsh weather conditions, storms and extremely fast wind speeds can cause damage to wind turbines and shorten their life expectancy if it happens too often.
What Happens at the End of a Wind Turbine’s Life Cycle?
When wind turbines reach the end of their life cycles, the owner has the choice to refurbish or completely upgrade them. If the turbine has been kept in fairly good condition, certain parts of the machine can be kept and others can be replaced.
Alternatively, turbine parts can be sold in exchange for new equipment. There is new technology that is constantly coming out to improve modern day turbines and the way we collect wind energy. These improvements can help wind farms increase their productivity and see a large increase in profits by spending less money to create more energy.
Due to frequent upgrades in wind turbine models, almost all wind turbines in the United States are actually less than a decade old.
How Much Wind Energy Is Used Throughout The World Today?
In the current day, wind energy only accounts for less than 5 percent of the world’s electricity. This statistic is so low due to the fact that many people are hesitant to consider if it is possible for the entire world to run on just wind energy alone.
If you’re serious about learning more about wind energy, I recommend the Wind Energy Handbook on Amazon. This book is great for both students and professionals, and it holds invaluable information on the subject of wind power.