Wind Energy

Lewis Burik
May 21, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Wind turbine repair occurring in wake of typhoon that struck Tsu-shi, Japan. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As interest and investment in renewable energy has increased in recent years, wind energy is often celebrated as a the most sustainable and powerful method of renewable energy. And while wind farms certainly face unique challenges, worldwide adoption of wind energy technologies is large and growing, with a promising future ahead.


Government subsidies encouraging large scale wind farms first gained prominence in the 1980s in California. And while wind farm technology was slow to accelerate in the United States in the 1990s, a considerable market emerged in Europe, due to an ideal wind profile, and the high cost of conventionally powered electricity. [1] Improvements in wind turbine technology, implementation offshore wind turbines, and improvement to the efficiency in conversion to grid-accessible power have made wind power more cost effective in the years following the initial embrace of wind technology in the 1990s. Wind energy production is feasible both on land, and off-shore, where marine winds are often stronger than on-land winds. [2]


Over the past ten years, the world has realized significant gains in consumption of wind energy. From 2005-2015, global consumption of wind energy grew at a 23% growth rate per annum, a truly remarkable statistic. In 2016, wind energy accounted for 3% of the world's energy consumption Wind energy has been particularly embraced in Europe. In 2016, wind accounted for 40% of Denmark's power generation, and wind provided 15% or more of total power generated in Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Lithuania. [3]


The outdoor nature of wind turbines is accompanied by many unique challenges. Wind turbines are exposed to weather conditions for the entirety of their life. Extreme wind, lack of wind, lightning, extreme heat and cold are some of the weather effects that endanger the reliability of wind turbines. Fig. 1 shows repairs being applied to a wind turbine in Tsu-shi, Japan in the days following a 2004 typhoon. Turbine repairs in the wake of extreme weather are common in the world of wind energy. Researchers suggest that wind turbines are often unavailable for 3% of their lifetime due to these factors, and operation and maintenance costs typically account for 10-20% of the total cost of a wind energy project, and up to 35% for a wind turbine at the end of its 20-year life. [4] Designing wind turbines that are resistant to damage from weather, or selecting locations that will minimize exposure to dangerous extreme weather, is a priority for leaders in the wind power space.


The future of global wind energy is certainly bright. With solid energy generation already in Europe and large scale investment in China and the U.S., wind energy is sure to increase its 3% share of global energy production in the coming years. In 2016, China alone grew their wind energy consumption by 29% and the U.S. grew their wind energy consumption by 18.4%). [3] Clearly, the state of global wind energy stands on solid ground, with believable hope for future growth.

© Lewis Burik. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] J. K. Kaldellis and D. Zafirakis, "The Wind Energy (r)Evolution: A Short Review of a Long History," Renew. Energy 36, 1887 (2011).

[2] D. Lloyd, "Wind Energy: Advantages and Disadvantages," Physics 240, Stanford University, Fall 2014.

[3] "BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017," British Petroleum, June 2017.

[4] P. Tchakoua et al., "Wind Turbine Condition Condition Monitoring: State of the Art Review, New Trends and Future Challenges," Energies 7, 2595 (2014).