Importance of Wind Power

Importance of wind power:

Fossil fuels are currently the primary energy source in the UK, however, fossil fuels take thousands of years to form and have almost all been used up throughout the 20th century.  Therefore, alternative forms of energy have to be investigated and implemented in order to meet future energy demands (Quaschning, 2005).

Wind power has recently become important in Europe, as the EU aims to have 20% of its electricity generated by renewable energies by 2020. Wind power currently provides 4% of Europe's energy demand (European Renewable Energy Council, 2010). 

The strive to introduce renewable energy is in order to decrease greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the threat of the 'greenhouse effect'.

The 'Greenhouse Effect':

The greenhouse effect is a naturally occurring phenomenon, without it the World's temperature would be as low as -18 degrees Celsius and therefore makes it vital for life on the planet. Greenhouse gasses include water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane which have both natural and anthropogenic sources (Quaschning, 2005).

The greenhouse effect involves solar energy from the Sun being 'trapped' in the Earth's atmosphere due to greenhouse gasses that reflect the solar energy back to the Earth's surface.

This process is completely natural but is enhanced by human activity. Anthropogenic carbon dioxide results from burning fossil fuels and biomass and contributes to 61% of the greenhouse effect and the most relevant greenhouse gas (Quaschning, 2005). 

In order to reduce the greenhouse effect there is a need to be 'carbon neutral'. In order to lower greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the enhanced greenhouse effect, renewable energies are needing to be adopted. Wind Power is the leading renewable energy and has recently become more and more common across the globe.

Map showing which countries contribute the most carbon dioxide emissions in 2000:
    - the larger the country, the more emissions that it is responsible for.
Image: World Mapper (2012)
Click to enlarge

From the map, it is clear to see that the countries that contribute least are Australia and those countries in South America and Africa. The countries most responsible for carbon dioxide emissions are the USA, UK and Europe, Japan and China. These are the places that need to reduce emissions to reduce the anthropogenic greenhouse effect - which could possibly be achieved by using renewable energies, such as wind power.

The map below shows the locations of the top 25 capacity wind farms in the UK. 

Top 25 capacity wind farms in the UK:
Map adapted from data obtained from Solar Kent (2012)
Key: Red = Onshore farms, Blue = Offshore farms
Wind power globally:

The Top 10 countries for cumulative installed capacity at the start of 2011 (Lynn, 2012):
  Country  MW
1 China   42,300
2 USA    40,200
3 Germany 27,200
4 Spain 20,700
5 India 13,100
6 Italy 5,800
7 France  5,700
8 UK  5,200
9 Canada 4,000
Denmark 3,800
However, when looking at Watts per head (therefore taking population into account), Denmark are the leaders in wind generation. Denmark's vision for the future includes generating 50% of its total electricity using wind turbines, both on and offshore (Lynn, 2012).

Over the years wind power has grown significantly and is used all over the world. Some countries, as discussed before, adopt wind power more so than others, although most countries have utilised the power of wind in recent years.

Image: Adapted from the World Wind Energy Association (2012)
Click to englarge

The graph above shows the World total installed capacity of wind power in MW from 2001 to 2011. It clearly shows the recent growth in wind power as the World aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

Wind Power in the UK:

Although it may appear that wind power is a significant energy source, this is not the case. The pie chart below shows the UK energy mix, and it is clear to see what percentage of renewables (including wind power) contribute to it.

Image: Adapted from Department of Energy and Climate Change (2011)

Within the 'renewables' section wind power contributes to less than 1% of the 8% shown (Boyle, 2004).
Although, with the EU aiming to achieve 20% of energy from renewable energy, it is extremely likely that the development of wind power will continue and increase this percentage significantly.