Friday, December 18, 2009

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: How Does Wind Energy Generated in Remote Areas Get Transmitted to Where it is Actually Used?

By Joaquin Altenberg

Wind energy has been used for centuries; this industry has evolved from the simple use of traditional windmills for menial mechanical energy to now driving large scale, modern, and sophisticated turbines for electricity generation. Wind energy has become a major potential player in the power sector. Wind farms are now being developed on a larger scale, as the benefits of wind power generation are being more widely understood.

Wind power projects can be of a small, individual scale where the owners of the wind turbine use the power for internal uses or of a much bigger commercial scale where energy is distributed to the public for profit. Wind turbines in a wind power project create usable energy by basically transforming the kinetic energy from the wind into mechanical or electric energy.

These turbines are placed on towers that are at least 30 meters tall, if not higher. Rotor blades propped on wind turbines propel with the force of the wind in motion and create a powerful rotational energy. This energy is converted into electric energy in the generator and channeled into high voltage transformers. Finally, the electricity is fed into the grid, then becoming available for use either directly by a single consumer or through a utility for more widespread usage. The function of these grids is to transmit and eventually distribute energy to commercial power providers, homes, farms, buildings and the like.

The productivity of a wind energy system depends on a variety of factors including the speed of wind at a given location. Also taken into consideration when planning a project are the visual and noise impacts possible at the given terrain/ location. Therefore, it is common to find larger wind projects located in windy, remote areas where they can be as unobtrusive and productive as possible. The electric energy generated is then transmitted to places near and far, where it is needed and consumed.

Like other resources such as the sun and fossil fuels which are used for energy creation, wind systems also use a generator to convert mechanical energy into electric energy. Thus, the actual journey of electricity from the generation source (in this case at a wind farm) to a place of use is similar to that of any other energy generating mechanism.

When the power is transported in collaboration with utilities, this electricity is transmitted to distant locations through massive overhead high voltage transmission lines. The power produced at generating plants is typically between 2,300 volts and 30,000 volts, depending on the size of the plant. It is necessary for the power to then be stepped-up at transmission substations to anywhere from 110kV to 765kV, for the overhead long distance transmission lines. Transmission is done through transmission grids. The transmission lines in the electricity grid are like the 'freeways' in a transportation system.

In order to facilitate proper distribution and usage this power is then transferred to a distribution grid. The distribution lines act as the 'local roads' in a transportation system. This switch from the transmission phase to the distribution phase takes place at step-down transmission substations. It is at these substations that voltages are reduced to those suitable for distribution (3.3 to 25 kV), and the power can be directed to multiple lines. Separate distribution lines are used for standard and higher voltages. Finally, the power finds its way to homes, buildings, and businesses through these very lines.

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