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Wind Energy, Wind Turbines, and Wind Power in Australia

Wind energy

Wind energy generation is the largest renewable source of energy in Australia, beating out solar energy, hydropower, and biomass. Wind energy, which is the renewable energy method of capturing the power of the wind through the use of wind turbines and turning it into electricity with generators, is on the rise. That doesn’t mean it isn’t without its downsides, like any renewable energy resource. Find out more about how wind power is generated and how wind turbines work, as well as the current situation of wind power in Australia, by reading more below.

What is wind energy? How do wind turbines work?

wind turbines

People have been harnessing the wind for thousands of years, from using sails to power boats to building windmills to crush grain and create paper. While the technology has evolved since these days, the idea of the wind being used for energy generation remains largely the same.

In short, wind energy is using the wind to generate energy. Today, wind energy is primarily used for electricity generation. The wind spins large wind turbines, which look like the modern-day windmill. These wind turbines, in turn, rotate a generator which creates electricity which is either used for community or residential use, or sent to the electricity grid.

Types of wind turbines

There are two main types of wind turbines which can be scaled to three different sizes, depending on where they are located, and how they will be used. The two types of wind turbines are:

  1. Horizontal-axis turbines, which are what we traditionally see in large wind farms. They usually have three blades, and the top of the turbine rotates to consistently face the wind.
  2. Vertical-axis turbines, which can spin from every direction, and don’t need to rotate or pivot to face the wind.

These two types of wind turbine can be scaled up, or down, depending on their location and use, which can be the following:

  1. Off-shore wind turbines are the largest of the wind turbines. These massive machines are placed in large bodies of water such as the ocean or large lakes, and are able to capture powerful ocean wind the generate huge amounts of electricity.
  2. Utility turbines are the land-based wind turbines we often see when we drive past a large wind farm. They are often grouped together, to generate large amounts of electricity for the electricity grid.
  3. Small-scale turbines are typically used for residential, agricultural, or small and local commercial energy generation. These turbines generate 100kWh or less of electricity, and are popular in remote or off-grid areas where connection to the electricity grid is spotty or non-existent.

Advantages and disadvantages of wind energy and wind farms

There are many arguments both for and against wind turbines. While this method of power has been used for thousands of years, modern wind energy generation is not without its faults. Many argue that while wind energy and generation is, itself, a renewable source of energy, the amount of cleared land needed, noise pollution produced, disruption to wildlife, and general eyesore of the wind turbines is often cited as reasons to avoid building and using wind turbines.

However, wind energy is clean and renewable and, once built (because it is expensive to build these massive wind turbines), require very little additional cost. In addition, those with huge amounts of land, such as farmers, can lease or rent out their property for wind turbines which brings in more money to the community.

Pros and cons of wind energy
Pros of wind energy Cons of wind energy
  • Clean and renewable
  • Efficient energy generation if used correctly and in the right place
  • Farmers can lease their land for wind farms to bring money into the region
  • Predictable and safe energy generation
  • Cheap and easy to generate energy once built
  • Fossil fuels required to build wind farms
  • Inconsistent wind means wind turbines won’t work at 100%
  • Requires lots of land to build, potentially clearing trees and disturbing wildlife
  • Turbines are noisy and ugly
  • Expensive start-up and construction costs

Wind energy and wind farms in Australia

Australia is well-equipped for wind power, with the southern coastline especially well suited thanks to the westerly winds found in the Southern Hemisphere known as the Roaring Forties.

Wind power is the largest renewable energy resource in Australia. Since the 1980’s, wind power generation has grown and, by the end of 2019, makes up approximately 8% of all electricity generated in Australia and over 35% of all renewable energy generated in the country.

[custom_block:Renewable Energy Graph 2012 to 2020]

By the end of 2019 there was, according to the Australian Clean Energy Council:

  • 6,279MW of installed wind power capacity
  • An addition 21,845MW proposed as of February 2020
  • 101 wind farms in Australia with wind turbines ranging from 1.5 to 3 MW
  • 30 more wind farm projects with a combined generating capacity of 5,500MW committed to being build by 2020/21

Individually by each state or territory, Australian wind power is currently made up by:

Wind farms by State
  Projects Turbines Total MW
South Australia 22 786 1,927
Victoria 29 834 1,922
New South Wales 15 527 1,256
Western Australia 22 345 621
Tasmania 8 126 314
Queensland 4 71 238
Australian Atlantic Territory 1 2 1

Source: Clean Energy Australia Report 2020

The largest Australian wind farm is owned by AGL, known as Coopers Gap Wind Farm and located north of Brisbane. It began generating electricity in the summer of 2019 and once completed will produce about 1,510,00MWh of energy per year which, AGL says, will power approximately 260,000 Australian homes.

Residential wind turbines Australia: Is small scale wind energy viable?

Everyone hears about small-scale, residential, renewable energy such as solar PV, but what about residential wind power? The short answer is that while small-scale wind turbines for off-grid energy generation might be possible it isn’t always practical. Many farms or remote communities have smaller wind power generators, but it is often the case that there just isn’t enough wind power to generate the electricity needed. For small, residential wind turbines, consistent (non-erratic) wind speeds of around 7-8 metres per second (on average) are recommended, in order for these turbines to be a worthwhile investment.

If you’re choosing to install a small-scale residential wind turbine on your property, you’ll need to get a read on the average wind speeds for your property for a full 12 months, to really see if the cost of $7,000 to $20,000 per turbine is worth it. Setting up an anemometer for 12 months can help you see if your property has the right conditions for a small-scale wind turbine.

In addition, council regulations such as height restrictions might also hinder your quest to install residential wind turbines on your property, as they ought to be 10 meters above the nearest objects to get the full force of the wind.

The future of wind power in Australia

Wind energy is on the rise in Australia. As stated, several dozen wind farm projects with a combined total capacity of 5,500MW are currently in the works. In addition, the cost of wind energy is continuing to fall. According to the Australia Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA),

The cost of utility-scale wind energy in Australia is expected to continue falling, with new wind farms expected to deliver electricity at around $50-65/MWh in 2020 and below $50/MWh in 2030.

The future of wind power in Australia is on the upswing. While still lagging behind other major countries (Denmark, for example, gets over 40% of its total electricity from wind energy as compared to Australia's 8%), there are over 90 total projects in the works for the future including the 30 wind farms set to be completed by 2021. The Australian Clean Energy Council Project Tracker, as of June 2020, predicts these wind energy projects will bring 11,007 MW of new renewable energy capacity to the country and create 13,567 direct jobs.

Wind energy and wind turbine FAQ

How much wind energy is used in Australia?

Wind energy is one of the biggest sources of renewable energy in Australia. In 2019, wind energy accounted for 8.5% of total electricity generated in the country, and 35.4% of total renewable energy.

Are residential wind turbines worth it?

A typical home uses just under 11,000kWh of electricity per year. In order for residential wind turbines to be worth it, you would need a wind turbine rated between 5-15kW in order to make any significant contribution to your energy generation and consumption. In addition, many residential properties aren’t suitable for residential wind turbines. If you’re interested in small-scale renewable energy, solar panels are a much more popular choice with many solar rebates available through the government.

How much does a wind turbine cost in Australia?

Depending on the turbine capacity, tower type, and location, a wind turbine will set you back anywhere between $7,000 and $20,000. This cost is comparable to a full solar PV system with included battery storage (approximately $10,000-$15,000), but far more than a basic solar system with panels and inverter (between $3,000 - $10,000 depending on size and brand).

How efficient is wind energy?

The average wind turbine has an efficiency between 35% and 45%, with the maximum theoretical limit of wind power efficiency at 59.6% according to the Laws of Physics outlined by the Betz Limit which was researched by Marisa Blackwood from the University of South Florida.

Do wind turbines actually harm birds?

It’s important to note that, as far as birds and bats are concerned, wind turbines are not the most deadly threat to these flying animals. As well, the actual number of birds and bats lost to windmills is not well studied, and varies greatly depending on location with the US giving an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 per year. Studies have found that by painting wind turbine blades black, bird fatalities can be reduced by over 70%.

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