How Wind Farms Work
Wind energy makes up around 5% of Australia’s electricity supply and over 30% of the renewable energy mix. It’s a growing source of clean energy, with some agencies and experts saying Australia could be a world-leader in wind farms.
The International Energy Agency has said natural gas will play an important role in complementing and transitioning to a higher proportion of wind energy. Because wind is variable – in other words, it doesn’t blow all the time, or at least not enough to make wind farms efficient all the time – a sustainable and high-performance power grid requires an energy mix. Some sources of energy will constantly supply the grid, while others will supply energy when they can.
In practice this means that energy sources like natural gas are a perfect complement to sources of power like wind. When wind is unstable or doesn’t supply energy to the grid, natural gas can be adjusted to stabilise supply. A good example of how this could work includes in South Australia during the blackouts as well as in Brazil, where natural gas is used as a complement to renewable sources of energy like hydro.
A wind turbine – much like the turbine used in a jet engine – is made up of the rotor blades attached to the turbine tower (the huge tower holding the blades up). A curve on the blade harnesses the winds kinetic energy and feeds it into a gearbox. The gearbox turns the kinetic energy into electrical energy and sends it down the turbine tower into a transformer, which converts the energy to a higher voltage of electricity. This is then sent to the power grids for homes and businesses to use. The average wind turbine can supply about 2MW of electricity, which is enough to supply 100 homes if it produces energy.
There are over 80 operational wind farms in Australia (about 2, 100 turbines in total), all of varying sizes and capacity. Six new wind farms became operational in 2017 and several more should start operations in 2018-19. Both the private and public sector are investing in the space, meaning the portion of the energy mix held by wind will only grow.
Ali Davenport, CEO of the Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise (TSBE), an advocacy body for the development of the region, says the area has become a hotspot for renewable energy and that the organisation is working with local councils, project owners and the supply chain to maximise regional benefits in energy supply.
“Our region represents a thriving energy hub with 45% of the state’s existing and proposed energy production plants based here. Following more than a decade of strong investment in the natural gas industry within the region it has been fantastic to see the renewables sector adding to our impressive energy mix”, says Davenport.
This is backed up by research from the University of Queensland which indicates that investment from the natural gas industry has made many renewable energy projects viable in regional and rural Queensland communities.
Davenport adds, “there has been approval of 18 solar farms as well as AGL’s $850 million 453 megawatt (MW) Coopers Gap wind farm which will be the largest wind farm in Australia and power 264,000 homes.”
The advantages of wind power for Australia are clear; cleaner energy. Renewable energy is something Australia is following through with, particularly in the private sector. Wind turbines, while relatively expensive for set-up, are relatively low cost during their lifespan of around 25 years.
As the investment in the sector continues, Australians will be enjoying more energy supplied by wind. That’ll most surely be stabilised by other sources of energy, including natural gas, which continues to play an important role in the Australian energy mix.
For more information on the Australian energy mix and natural gas stay tuned to Brighter.
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