Wind power and its synonym wind energy are terms that refer to electricity that has been generated by harnessing the power of wind, as opposed to other methods such as solar panels or the burning of fossil fuels. Wind power is clean, renewable, sustainable, affordable to construct, and easy to scale up or down in size to attain the optimal power output. Wind power is generated through the use of wind turbines, whose blades turn when the wind blows, which then spins a generator either directly or through a series of gears, ultimately creating electricity.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Wind Power (2020):
|Rank||Country||Megawatts (MW)||Rank||Country||Gigawatt hours (GWh)|
|2||United States||118,731.7||2||United States||341,818.0|
Types of wind turbine and their locations
Most "wind farms" are built on land, but a growing number of wind farms are now being constructed offshore in large bodies of water. Modern wind turbines typically appear in one of two forms: horizontal-axis turbines or vertical-axis turbines. Horizontal-axis turbines are more common and resemble sleek, white, often gigantic windmills with three slender blades. They perform best when pointed into the wind. Vertical-axis turbines have a wider range of appearances, but often look similar to an upside-down eggbeater or kitchen mixer. Because they rotate around a vertical axis, these turbines are omnidirectional and need not be adjusted to point into the wind.
Wind turbines appear in a vast range of sizes. Single, small turbines that generate fewer than 100 kilowatts are often used in residential, agricultural, and small commercial or industrial applications. The utility-scale turbines present in most wind farms are capable of generating anything from 100 kilowatts to several megawatts and are used to power electrical grids. These are much larger, averaging 300 feet in height (higher than the Statue of Liberty) with blades 200 feet long—and newer models are even bigger. Offshore wind turbines are the largest of all, and can harness powerful ocean winds and generate very large amounts of electricity.
Modern wind turbines can generate electricity at wind speeds as low as six to nine miles per hour. This is known as the cut-in speed. If wind speeds exceed 55 miles per hour, the turbines shut off to prevent damage to the equipment. Because they can operate in such a wide range of wind conditions, modern wind turbines are able to generate usable amounts of electricity more than 90% of the time. However, wind farms occasionally spark concern regarding their impact on the visual landscape and/or the surrounding environment.
Wind power around the world
China is the largest producer of wind power in the world, having generated 466.5 terawatt hours (TWh) of wind power in 2021, more than 29% of the global total of 1,596.4 TWh produced during the year. The United States is the second-largest producer of wind power, and generated 341.40 TWh of wind power in 2021, equal to just over 21% of total global production. Together, China and the United States generated 50.6% of the world's wind power in 2021.
A full 9% of the country's electricity came from wind power in 2021, making wind the largest source of renewable energy in the country. However, seven countries in Europe have achieved much higher levels of wind power penetration, including 41% of production in Denmark, 28% in Ireland, 24% in Portugal, 21% in Germany, and 19% in Spain. For one day in 2017, Denmark got 100% of its energy from wind power.
The rapid growth of wind power
Wind power’s total cumulative installed electricity generation capacity has increased rapidly since 2000, and continues to expand faster than any other form of energy. Globally, countries added 59 gigawatts (GW) of wind power capacity in 2019, a record 113 GW in 2020, and 94 GW in 2021, bringing the world's total estimated capacity to an estimated 824.9 gigawatts (GW). While this rate of expansion still falls short of the global "Net Zero Emissions by 2050" target, it offers a clear signal that global investment in wind power is rising.
This growth also enabled a record-breaking 17% (273 terawatt hours) increase in total global wind energy production in 2021. Overall, the world's countries as a whole generated 1,870.3 terawatt hours (TWh) of wind energy in 2021, more than double the 839.8 TWh generated in 2015 and more than five times the 342.7 TWh generated in 2010.