What Is The Major Application Of Wind Power?

Wind power has emerged as one of the most rapidly growing renewable energy sources in the world over the past few decades. While windmills have been used for grinding grain and pumping water for centuries, the modern development of wind power for electricity generation began in the 1970s. Since then, advancements in turbine technology, materials, project scale, and grid integration have enabled wind power to become a mainstream energy source around the globe.

Total worldwide installed wind power capacity has increased over 50-fold in the last 20 years, from 6,100 megawatts (MW) in 1996 to over 597,000 MW by the end of 2018. Wind power comprised 5.5% of worldwide electricity generation in 2018. The levelized cost of land-based wind power has declined substantially as well, making it competitive with fossil fuel sources in many markets. Major applications of wind power today include both utility-scale and distributed electricity generation.

Electricity Generation

The primary application of wind power is electricity generation. Wind turbines convert the kinetic energy of wind into mechanical power, which is then converted into electricity. This electricity can be used for various applications such as powering homes, businesses, schools, and more.

Wind turbines are comprised of blades that spin as wind blows over them. The spinning blades turn a shaft inside the turbine that is connected to a generator. As the shaft turns, it converts the mechanical power into electrical power through electromagnetic induction. The electricity is then fed into transmission lines and distributed to end users.

Wind power is considered a renewable energy source because wind will continually reoccur naturally. The fuel for wind turbines (the wind) is free and unlimited, unlike fossil fuels that must be mined and processed. Wind power generation provides clean electricity without emitting greenhouse gases or other pollutants.

Onshore vs Offshore Wind Farms

There are two main types of wind farms – onshore and offshore. The main difference between onshore and offshore wind farms is the location.

Onshore wind farms are located on land, usually in rural or agricultural areas and often in windy locations like plains, hills and ridges. Onshore wind turbines are easier and less expensive to install and maintain compared to offshore turbines.

Offshore wind farms are installed in bodies of water, usually oceans, lakes or estuaries. Offshore wind turbines are built on structures fixed to the seabed or floating structures anchored to the seabed. Offshore wind farms have higher wind speeds compared to onshore, allowing them to generate more power.

However, offshore wind turbine installation requires special ships and equipment and is more complex. This makes the upfront capital costs of offshore wind farms much higher than onshore wind farms. Maintenance costs are also higher due to the remote ocean locations.

Utility-Scale Wind

The most common application of wind power is utility-scale wind farms owned by energy companies that feed into the electrical grid. These wind farms consist of dozens or even hundreds of large wind turbines, usually clustered together in windy rural or coastal locations. The wind blows the turbine blades, which spin a generator to produce electricity.

Utility-scale wind is considered the most cost-effective and efficient form of wind energy. The larger scale enables wind farm operators to benefit from economies of scale during construction and operation. The generated electricity feeds into the transmission grid, allowing it to reach consumers hundreds of miles away from where the wind turbines are located.

Many of the largest onshore wind farms in the world generate well over 1 gigawatt of power, comparable to large coal or natural gas power plants. Offshore wind farms are also becoming increasingly popular as the technology improves – these harness stronger and more consistent winds found over the ocean. Overall, utility-scale wind accounts for the vast majority of wind power capacity worldwide.

Distributed Wind

Distributed wind power refers to smaller turbines installed on-site to meet local energy needs, as opposed to utility-scale wind farms designed for grid-connected electric generation. Distributed wind turbines are generally sized from less than 1 kW to 1,000 kW and used by homes, farms, businesses, schools, and other facilities to offset electricity purchases and provide direct power where grid power is limited or unavailable.

The main advantages of distributed wind versus utility-scale include:
wind power is increasingly cost competitive with fossil fuels in many markets, enabling it to gain more market share.

  • Can provide electricity directly to the local user without transmission lines.
  • Helps reduce demand on the main grid.
  • Allows users to become more energy self-sufficient.
  • Can be paired with storage like batteries for off-grid use.

Key applications of distributed wind include residential homes, agricultural operations, schools and universities, military bases, remote communities, industrial facilities, and commercial buildings. The market potential is considerable, with millions of sites in the United States alone that could utilize on-site wind generation. Continued improvements in turbine efficiency and declining costs will further increase adoption of distributed wind.

Wind Power Storage

One of the challenges with wind power is that it is an intermittent energy source that fluctuates based on wind speed and patterns. Methods have been developed to store excess wind energy when supply exceeds demand so it can be utilized later when needed. Some key methods for storing wind power include:

Pumped hydro storage – This involves pumping water uphill into a reservoir when there is excess wind energy. The water can then be released to drive hydro turbines to generate electricity when wind power is low. Pumped hydro is a mature, large-scale energy storage technique used in many countries.

Compressed air energy storage – Wind energy can be used to compress air into underground caverns or containers. The compressed air is then heated and expanded through turbines to generate electricity when required. Some compressed air facilities are already integrated with wind farms.

Batteries – Large grid-scale battery systems are being used alongside wind farms to store excess energy. Lithium-ion batteries are becoming popular given reductions in cost. Batteries provide a lightweight and flexible solution.

Hydrogen production – Excess wind electricity can be used to produce hydrogen via electrolysis of water. The hydrogen can then be stored and later used in fuel cells to generate electricity when required.

With further development of storage technologies, a greater proportion of wind power will be able to be captured and utilized when needed, rather than curtailed.


One of the major challenges with wind power is transmitting the electricity from the wind farms where it is generated to the areas where it will be consumed. Wind farms are often located in remote areas far from cities and industrial centers. New transmission infrastructure is needed to deliver the power.

Building long distance transmission lines can be extremely expensive and faces considerable barriers like obtaining rights of way. Many proposed projects in the United States have stalled because of difficulties getting approval for new transmission routes. Upgrading existing transmission lines also faces cost and regulatory hurdles.

Another issue is that wind power is intermittent – wind speeds fluctuate constantly so the amount of electricity generated at any time is variable. This creates challenges for grid operators to balance supply and demand. Large scale regional coordination of transmission systems helps overcome this problem by smoothing out the variability across different wind sites.

Despite the difficulties, expanding and upgrading transmission infrastructure is crucial for delivering remotely generated wind power to population centers. Better transmission will allow farmers and rural landowners to tap into wind power’s economic benefits while also providing clean electricity to cities.


The costs associated with wind power consist of the initial installation costs as well as ongoing operating costs. Installation costs include the cost of the wind turbines themselves, as well as the costs for site preparation, foundations, electrical equipment, grid connections, and civil works. The size and type of turbine impacts the installation cost, with larger utility-scale turbines costing more to install than smaller turbines. However, the cost per unit of energy produced is often lower with larger turbines.

Operating costs include maintenance of the turbines, spare parts and repairs, land lease costs, and insurance. Maintenance is a relatively small part of ongoing costs and involves regular preventative maintenance as well as any unscheduled repairs. Modern wind turbines are very reliable and require minimal maintenance. Land lease costs will depend on the site location and any agreements with landowners.

The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for wind power has decreased substantially in recent decades, making it competitive with traditional energy sources like coal and natural gas in many locations. The LCOE accounts for both installation and operating costs over the lifetime of the system.

Environmental Impact

Wind power has several environmental advantages compared to fossil fuel sources. Wind turbines produce no air pollution emissions during their operations, which helps improve air quality and public health. The life cycle emissions from wind power are also typically lower than those from coal and natural gas per unit of electricity generated.

However, wind turbines can also have some negative environmental effects. The spinning blades can kill birds and bats that fly into them. Proper siting in areas away from major migratory bird paths and bat habitation can help minimize impacts. Wind turbines may also impact their local environments via habitat disturbance, noise, visual impacts, and effects on soils and vegetation. Design considerations like low noise rotor blades and avoiding key habitat areas are important for reducing ecological effects.

Offshore wind developments face additional environmental considerations, such as effects on marine life during construction and interference with commercial fishing. However, offshore turbines can also create artificial reefs that support recreational fishing. Overall, wind power creates far fewer adverse environmental impacts compared to fossil fuel energy sources.

Future of Wind Power

The future looks bright for wind power. Many experts predict significant growth in wind power capacity over the next decade. This growth will be driven by several key factors:

Continuing cost declines – As technology improves, manufacturers are able to produce larger and more efficient turbines, further driving down costs.

Supportive government policies – Many governments around the world have enacted policies to encourage renewable energy adoption, including tax incentives, mandates, and carbon pricing schemes.

Increasing competitiveness – In many regions, wind is now cost competitive with fossil fuel energy sources. This cost competitiveness will enable wind to win more market share.

New markets – Countries like India, Brazil, South Africa and others are investing heavily in wind power to meet rising energy demands and reduce emissions.

Offshore growth – Offshore wind, while still more expensive than onshore, holds enormous potential, especially in Europe, China and the United States.

Technological innovations – Advances like taller towers, larger rotors and floating foundations will unlock superior wind resources and enable growth in new locations.

Better grid integration – Improved transmission infrastructure and advancements in areas like battery storage will enable greater grid penetration of variable wind power.

Overall, analysts forecast wind power capacity doubling or even tripling globally over the next decade. This growth will play a major role in the world’s transition to a clean energy future.

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