Wind power

Definition: Wind power is energy obtained from the use of air flow to generate electricity or mechanical power. As a renewable energy source, wind power is a sustainable alternative to burning fossil fuels, producing no greenhouse gas emissions during operation, consuming no water, and using relatively little land.

Large-scale wind power generation consists of large turbines grouped together on one site to form a wind farm or wind park, either onshore (on land) or offshore (at sea or in freshwater). For businesses looking to tap into electricity generation through wind power, the more commercially viable method at this moment in time is onshore wind, as this is widely considered as the most cost-effective and technologically mature of all renewable technologies. Onshore wind is expected to continue providing energy security, while making an affordable, clean and significant contribution to the UK’s energy mix. 

How does a wind turbine work?

When the wind blows, it turns the carbon-fibre blades on the turbine, which turns a motor, which turns kinetic energy into electricity. This energy is transferred to a gearbox, which converts the slow speed of the spinning blades into higher-speed rotary motion - turning the drive shaft quickly enough to power an electricity generator.

What is the market size for wind power?

More than 54GW of clean, renewable wind power capacity was installed across the global market in 2016, which now comprises more than 90 countries - including nine with more than 10,000MW installed, and 29 which have now passed the 1,000MW mark. Cumulative capacity grew by 12.6% to reach a total of 486.8GW.

The UK is one of the best locations for wind power in the world and is considered to be the best in Europe. Within the UK, wind power is the largest source of renewable electricity. Wind power delivers a growing percentage of the energy of the UK and by mid-June 2017, it consisted of 7,613 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of more than 15.6GW: 10,275MW of onshore capacity and 5,356MW of offshore capacity. The UK made history in 2016, with analysis revealing that energy from wind turbines dwarfed energy sourced from coal power stations for the first time ever.

What are the business benefits of installing wind power?

Wind turbines not only reduce carbon emissions, but provide energy security whilst protecting against future energy price rises. Moreover, the cost of onshore wind farms is relatively cheap, allowing for mass 'farms' of wind turbines. The shorter distance between the windmills and the consumer allows for less voltage drop off on the cabling. And Wind turbines are relatively quick to install and can be built within a few months - unlike a nuclear power station, for example, which can take more than 20 years to get up and running. 

The overall reliability of wind turbines is high – more than 97% availability is standard for modern turbines. High upfront costs are negated by the fact that wind energy is limitless and virtually free (barring operation and maintenance costs) over a typical 25-year lifetime. Most wind turbines pay back their initial investment within nine years of installation and can continue to provide income to businesses. Any excess electricity generate that cannot be use can be exported to the grid network, for example in times of high wind speeds but low electricity demand on the wind farm.

What are the costs of installing wind power?

Upfront costs for the smallest commercial wind turbines (>55kW) start at around £300,000 rising to several million pounds for the largest (2-3MW). If self-funding, businesses should expect a payback of seven to nine years for a large-scale turbine (>1.5MW) and 10-12 years for a medium-scale turbine (<1.5MW). If financed through a third-party power purchase agreement (PPA) for the system's lifetime, energy bill savings of 8-10% should be achievable.

What are the business requirements when installing wind power?

Businesses looking to implement onsite wind power must consider a variety of factors. First, the location of the site should be assessed, with considerations made for average wind speed in the local area - of course, higher wind speeds will mean more energy generated by the wind turbines. In this regard, sites on top of a hill or in a wide open space with no obstructions nearby will be beneficial.

Wind turbines also require a suitable electrical supply to connect to. The systems are large and heavy, so the access roads and tracks to the site need to be capable of taking oversize loads with no weak bridges, excessively tight corners or steep gradients. 

Wind turbines are very visible within the landscape, so sites with landscape designations such as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) will have more difficulty obtaining planning consent. Businesses also need to consider sufficient separation from noise-sensitive neighbours. Modern wind turbines are remarkably quiet, but even so there are very stringent maximum noise levels that have to be met to obtain planning consent.

What is the policy backdrop for wind power?

The UK Government’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT) subsidy scheme supports wind power installations for the lifecycle of a project, and provides a supplementary income to businesses. It is worth noting, however, that tariff rates are diminishing for large-scale wind power installations. FiTs are paid for every kWh generated, regardless of whether it is consumed onsite or exported. The amount paid under the FiT for wind is banded for different sizes of wind turbine so that smaller turbines which normally cost disproportionately more to install are not penalised.

See also: Onsite generation

See also: Onshore wind

See also: Offshore wind

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