Wind power denotes the conversion of wind energy into forms that can be employed to powering human inventions. This could mean naval motive power from sails and mechanical power from wind turbines that may be used for pumping water, powering machinery and generating electricity, respectively. However the latter is the type most frequently referred to in this day and age, as electricity and the generation thereof is a major concern.
The wind seems ideal for this purpose as it is a tremendous source of power. Indeed, the total amount of electricity that could be generated from the wind is calculated to be many times more than the total human needs. Yet although it can be harnessed at least in part by wind turbines connected to the power grid, the very nature of wind makes it difficult to use for more than a small part of a total power supply. The uneven distribution thereof means that while some areas have more than they need, others may be more or less without it. Moreover wind-generated electricity cannot be dispatched like power from other sources, but has to be used instantaneously.
Nationwide power grids remedy these problems to an extent, but cannot regulate the intermittency and unpredictability of wind as a natural phenomenon. Suffice it to say that the wind cannot be controlled, and that wind generators might as just well generate lots of power when it is not needed as it might fail to do so at a time of high demand. This causes problems, as the electrical generation and consumption must remain in balance for the sake of stability. It requires hydroelectricity pump-storage or similar energy storage at times of high production; whereas at other times alternative power plants might be needed to compensate for insufficient such. This so-called demand management raises the cost of regulating the power grid. Not only are these problems pertinent for small-scale operations, but they intensify the higher the percentage of the total power supply that wind power accounts for. It is for these reasons that wind power currently only amounts to 2% of the global energy supply.
However this figure is offset for figures as high as over 19% for Denmark and over 11% for Spain and Portugal, suggesting that the problems involved in large-scale wind power operations are far from insurmountable. Moreover they are offset by the fact that wind-powered electricity generation does not consume any fuels. It is therefore completely free of air pollution, making it an attractive alternative in a century characterized by concern for the environment and the fight against global warming. Even the production of the wind turbines result in relatively minor emissions that are surpassed by far by fossil-fuel based power plants in but a matter of years.
These aspects are countered by aesthetic concerns, though others seem to think that wind farms enhance rather than ruin the landscape. Noise, vibrations and resulting loss in property values of homes and business close to wind farms have also led to occasional complaints, but this is easily avoided by careful placement of turbine sites or even extended use of offshore wind turbines.
Whether appreciated or not, wind power is a mode of electricity generation that is likely to become more and more prevalent. The industry has doubled several times over the last decade, growing rapidly not only in Europe and the US but even more so in countries like China and Brazil. As this has occurred in spite of the present difficulties involved in using wind power, it can only be assumed that it will grow even further as technological advances allow for more effective solutions.