Engineers harness mother nature.

We discussed energy sources such as geothermal and solar in our previous blogs. We now take a look at one of the oldest forms of energy, one of the sources of energy that has been around just as long as the Earth. As water can dry up and stop flowing, and the sun seems to go away for a good portion of each day, there is one energy source that rarely seems to take a break.  For this reason, wind can be considered a twenty four hour, three hundred and sixty- five day power supply.

At one point in time, wind was used to sail our ships or fly our kites. Once it was learned that we could harness and utilize the wind for energy production it became one of the leading renewable energy sources that we use today. Wind energy is a major source in over 70 countries throughout the world.

Mechanical Engineers work to design better efficiency

Mechanical engineers today are constantly work on newer and more cost efficient designs for the wind turbines used to create the energy from the wind.  Not unlike an airplanes propeller, the wind turbines blades spin in the wind to power electric generators to create the electricity we use.  As these propellers turn, the spin a shaft that connects to the generator. Mechanical engineers work in conjunction with electrical engineers when creating the designs. Using Computer Aided Drawings (CAD) programs along with Finite Element Analysis (FEA), the engineers can create their designs in model form on computers instead of trial and error by building actual models resulting in higher development costs as well as time spent. The use of these tools allows the engineers the capabilities to create turbines that can generate the optimal output of electricity with more reliable and durable materials. Innovations have made in turbine design to include the use of different types of materials in the blade manufacturing process to keep weight down and increase reliability. The drive trains and control systems of the generators have been improved by today’s technology to help reduce their loads and ensure greater compatibility to the grid network.
Even though the technology has helped make great strides in wind energy, there are still areas of concern for this renewable source. Some of the turbines used for commercial applications can have blade spans that are over one hundred yards long and the structure can be as tall as a twenty story building. These larger turbines can create enough electricity to power as many as 1,400 homes. More personal or single home use turbines are much smaller, but can still have rotors up to twenty-five feet in diameter and stand upwards of thirty feet. The initial cost of building a single turbine is rather expensive and to get a maximum usable amount of energy, wind turbines are often grouped together over a great deal of space, called wind farms. Due to the size of these farms, they are often located in more remote areas and away from major grids, so the transfer and storage of the electricity generated can create additional expenses. Wind farms are not only located on land either. Due to the more extreme weather and wind conditions, wind farms are also being located off shore in the oceans. While this has the opportunity to create more energy, the construction and placement of locating the farms in the ocean obviously has its drawbacks.

As stated earlier, many countries across the globe are utilizing the wind as one of their main sources of energy, and rely greatly on the advances being made today to allow for growth in populations that will create higher energy demands. As technology improves and designs become more feasible, I think we can expect to see wind energy become even more relevant in regards to supplying or power grids.