Wind power or wind energy is a renewable resource generated from the natural kinetic energy of air movement. Simple uses of wind power date back to early human societies, where sails and later more sophisticated structures like windmills were used to assist people with tasks requiring power and to propel seafaring vessels. Today, the same energy is converted into electricity through wind turbines with rotor blades, creating carbon-free electricity essential to the green energy transition.
Wind energy basics – what are the advantages and disadvantages of wind power?
The advantages of wind power are manifold and easy to observe and understand. The kinetic energy of air movement generated through weather events, pressure systems and thermodynamics is powerful and available in abundance all over the world. Methods of harnessing it range from extremely simple to technologically refined, but all are highly efficient and require few physical resources and little to no land use. Last but not least, wind is a cost-effective and clean energy. Aside from relatively minor concerns relating to noise, aesthetic impact and potential effects of wind turbines on wildlife, the main disadvantages lie in the fluctuating nature of wind and the unreliability of the resulting electricity supply, as well as related transport and storage issues.
The challenges of wind power: fluctuation and distribution
Wind power is generally considered to be the cheapest renewable energy resource. However, it is not available on demand or consistently. Although the electricity generated by wind turbines is generally stable over longer time spans, it can vary seasonally and fluctuates over the course of a day, potentially going from peak production to doldrums and back again within an hour. The major challenges of the wind industry are the transport and storage of the energy generated by wind turbines. Due to the fact that wind turbines are mostly located in rural locations and increasingly in offshore wind farms, a grid expansion is necessary to transport electricity to end users. Even then, at peak times unused volumes go to waste unless storage solutions are found.
Energy storage is a global issue. In Germany, for example, we produce over 40,000 megawatts in offshore, solar and wind power, but each year around 5,500 megawatts of this potential are lost because the grids can’t absorb it all. We have to store renewable energy for those times when it is not generated.
The hybrid wind of change
MAN Energy Solutions is a leading supplier of hybrid power solutions that deliver the best of both worlds. They combine renewable energy sources, thermal power generation and energy storage systems in a microgrid. Operators can fully exploit the available renewables like wind power whenever available, store surplus electricity when needed, then switch to stored power or other backup solutions to ensure security of supply when yield is low.
Storing wind power
One of the most promising new storage solutions for excess wind energy is provided by Power-to-X technology. It allows wind power plants to effectively manage surplus production by converting electricity into hydrogen and oxygen via electrolysis. The hydrogen can be turned into synthetic gas for storage or use as transport fuel, benefiting sectors that are more difficult to supply with a carbon-free power source.
Energy storage for wind power
Power-to-X is already being used to convert surplus renewable energy, especially wind power, into a storable synthetic gas in some pilot projects in Germany. The country is continually expanding its use of renewables and has already set dates for the final phase-out of both nuclear and coal-fueled power pants. A reliable energy storage solution will be essential to the successful energy transition – and this pioneering technology can provide just that.