Assessing Locations for Wind Power Generation

by Clint Ouma

Wind Power Generation Plant

Wind Power Generation: Finding the right location involves much more than just wind speeds.

Wind power has exhibited exponential growth over the last five years.

China has doubled their total wind power capacity from 2009 to 2011 [1] and the total global capacity rose by approximately 23% in the first half of 2011 [1].

Nevertheless, there are several factors that limit the growth of wind power generation worldwide.

The factors affecting the location of a wind farm can be categorized as being;

1. Physical Factors

2. Social Factors

3. Economic Factors

Wind power plants cannot be setup everywhere, there are certain conditions that make some locations favourable for wind power projects of several megawatts and other sites unfit for any installations.

It is common to think that the most important factor when looking for a location to site a wind farm is the wind resource but this is just the first among many factors that developers have to consider. Below we explore the different physical, social, and economic factors.

Physical Factors – Where Is Wind Energy Found?

Physical issues affect the farm’s overall productivity and include the wind resources and terrain of the land among others.

The first question that must be asked is where is wind energy found?

When considering the wind power potential of a site, measurements of up to 12 months need to be analysed for the height of the turbines that are to be installed.

This is because wind patterns vary from season to season, so it’s important to properly evaluate the expected annual returns from each site.

The terrain also affects wind power generation because the existence of complex hills and valleys or dense forests could complicate the flow of wind in a region. As such, some locations have strong winds but the flow is too complex or turbulent for exploiting wind energy.

Physical considerations therefore include the quality, as well as the quantity, where wind energy is found.


Social Factors – Politics of Generating Wind Electricity

Social issues affect the permission process for project approval and include public acceptance, noise levels and proximity to protected areas just to name a few.

The attitude of people towards wind power generation plants varies from place to place.

In countries like England, a lot of the developers have been forced to invest on offshore projects because people do not want to see wind turbines near their towns.

While it could make economic sense to site a wind farm near an urban centre, the social impact would prevent such proximity.

People often site visual impact as the main factor fuelling social resistance to wind farm development followed closely by the noise impact.

Activists who oppose wind farm developments have coined slogans like NIMBY – Not in My Back Yard [2]; [3], and BANANA – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything [4] in their campaigns.

This is why compensation packages and social acceptance campaigns are run by clean energy companies, to minimize opposition [5].

Economics of Wind Power Generation

Finally, Economic factors come into play, these not only affect the locations of the wind farms but the sizes of the farms themselves.

The Economic issues include site accessibility, proximity to the grid and availability of installation equipment. It is best to locate your wind farm as close to an existing grid as possible.

It’s also vital that the grid can handle the capacity you plan to generate. If not, the wind farm developer or transmission company has to upgrade and extend the grid.

Remember that a wind farm can only be located in areas with good wind regimes, these are sometimes remote or isolated areas thus the grid improvements turn out to be expensive.

Another issue that affects the economics of generating wind power is site accessibility.

The size of a wind farm or the amount of power that can be generated is determined by the capacity that can be installed.

If the road access is limited, large blades cannot be transported to the site; also if the farm is offshore, the availability and cost of Turbine Installation Vessels (TIVs) will determine the size of your wind farm [6].

The upgrades of roads and grids as well as the acquisition of TIVs affects the investments costs of the wind farm thus developers often select sites that already have working infrastructure in place.

As with all energy solutions, wind electricity generation projects have a number of obstacles.

Nevertheless, the technology is deemed to be revolutionary and has been selected as the main power source for Europe’s 2020 goals to attain 20% renewables in their energy mix [7].

Despite opposition, 70% of UK on-shore wind farms still get permission to go online [8] [9]. This is because of the great need and urgency for the development of clean renewable energy sources.

Article References

[1] Clean Technica – Wind Power Growth Rebounds 15% in H1 2011, Capacity Rises ~ 23%: http://cleantechnica.com/2011/09/05/wind-power-growth-rebounds-15-in-h1-2011-capacity-rises-23/

[2] Clean Technica – NIMBYism Kills 45% of Clean Energy Projects: http://cleantechnica.com/2011/10/24/nimby-ism-kills-45-of-clean-energy-projects/

[3] Cnet News – As Alternative Energy Grows, NIMBY Turns Green: http://news.cnet.com/8301-11128_3-10392309-54.html

[4] Finance Townhall – Enviros: Build-Absolutely-Nothing-Anywhere-Near-Anything is Our Real Energy Problem: http://finance.townhall.com/columnists/maritanoon/2011/09/06/enviros_build-absolutely-nothing-anywhere-near-anyone_is_our_real_energy_problem/page/2

[5] The Telegraph – MP fights Wind Farm While Planning His Own: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/windpower/8786363/MP-fights-wind-farm-while-planning-his-own.html

[6] Renewable Energy World Magazine (PennWell) – January-February 2012; Page 50

[7] House of Lords European Union Committee 27th Report of Session 2007 – 2008: The EU’s Target for Renewable Energy: 20% by 2020 Potential Energy Mix; Volume 1 Report – Page 20. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldeucom/175/175.pdf

[8] EWEA – EU Will Exceed Renewable Energy Goal of 20% By 2020: http://www.ewea.org/index.php?id=60&no_cache=1&tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=1892&tx_ttnews%5BbackPid%5D=1&cHash=05ee83819

[9] Renewable Energy Foundation – In Spite of Opposition 70% of Onshore Wind Farm Applications are Approved: http://www.ref.org.uk/press-releases/250-in-spite-of-opposition-70-of-onshore-wind-farm-applications-are-approved

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