Onshore Turbines

A typical onshore turbine can generate as much as 6 million kWh per year.1 That’s enough energy to power some 1,500 homes.2 The question is, could onshore turbines provide us with enough energy to replace our existing fossil fuel power plants?

What Are Onshore Turbines?

Onshore turbines are large land based structures that harness the energy contained within the wind to generate electrical energy.3 This is most commonly done using a propeller that consists of three long slender blades.4 As the wind blows on the blades their carefully crafted form causes them to rotate at a rate of about 10 to 30 revolutions per minute.5 The rotating blades are then connected to a generator that’s used to create electricity.6 The largest onshore turbines stand 200 metres tall and have a diameter of more than 125 metres.7 This is around the same height as the ‘Gherkin’ in London.8 To create a meaningful amount of energy, onshore turbines are usually grouped together to form wind farms.9 These usually consist of several hundred onshore turbines and can take up significant amounts of land. In fact, the largest wind farm to date covers over one thousand square kilometres.10 While this may seem a lot, the land between the turbines can still be used for a variety of other purposes such as crop growth and pastures. Currently, wind energy produces just 0.5% of the world’s energy demand, with onshore turbines making up 98% of that total.11 Overall, onshore turbines have the potential to generate an estimated 105 PWh of energy – that’s enough energy to meet the entire planet’s energy demand.12

What’s Good About Them?

  • The energy source is plentiful.
  • There are lots of potential sites around the world.13
  • They require minimal maintenance.14
  • Other activities such as farming can take place between them.

What’s Bad About Them?

  • The energy supply fluctuates due to varying wind speeds.15
  • Many people find them unattractive.16
  • They can produce unwanted noise.17
  • They cause a small number of birds to die every year.18

How Much Area Do We Need?

Approximately 12% of the United States would have to be covered with onshore turbines to meet the country’s energy demand.19 This assumes that there is an average wind speed of six metres per second.

What Do They Look Like?

Due to their height, onshore turbines often become very prominent features within the landscape. In fact, they can be noticeable from as far as 8 kilometres away.20 As a result, if we opt to use onshore turbines for much of our energy demand, our countryside will be dramatically altered.

Where Are Onshore Turbines Best Located?

Onshore turbines are best placed where the average wind speeds are six metres per second or higher.21 They also need to be located in areas that have not undergone urban development, nor areas that are covered with trees, mountains or significant quantities of ice. As a result, they offer good potential in the UK, Central USA, Australia, New Zealand, North Africa and Western China. However, they offer less potential in South America, Central Africa, most of Europe, Russia and the majority of Asia.

How Do They Perform?

¢7/KWH2220 Years2317 GWH24
Energy PriceLife Spanper KM² per Year
13 Years256 Months26105 PWH27
Economic OffsetEnergy OffsetWorld Potential

How Do They Rate?

Value for Money|★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Reliability|★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Eco-friendliness|★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Global Potential|★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Overall|★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Onshore Turbines in a Nutshell

So, to summarise, onshore turbines provide very affordable energy, don’t take up very much space and have the potential to meet the majority of the world’s current energy demand. What’s more, other activities such as farming can take place between them. Despite this, many people have reservations about onshore turbines. This is due to the noise they make and their prominence within the landscape. However, this seems a small price to pay when you consider the devastation climate change is likely to bring.

Image Credit

Title image taken by Eimantas Buzas and reproduced under license from Shutterstock.

United States map created by SUPER RADICAL.

Image of onshore wind turbines taken by Richard Whitcombe and reproduced under license from Shutterstock.

World map created by SUPER RADICAL. World map based on all onshore areas with wind speeds greater than six metres per second except for any areas that have undergone urban development, or that are covered with forests, mountains or significant quantities of ice. Wind speeds sourced from Vaisala – ‘5km Wind Map’ – Map. Areas covered by urban development based on satellite images sourced from Mayhew, Craig and Simmon, Robert – ‘Earth’s City Lights’ – visibleearth.nasa.gov. Areas of forest cover sourced Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – ‘Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005, Progress Towards Sustainable Forest Management’ – Page 15. Areas of mountain and ice cover sourced from Koistinen, Ville – ‘The Main Biomes in the World’ – commons.wikimedia.org.

Article Endnotes

  1. European Wind Energy Association – 'Wind Energy's Frequently Asked Questions' – www.ewea.org.
  2. European Wind Energy Association – 'Wind Energy's Frequently Asked Questions' – www.ewea.org.
  3. Encyclopaedia Britannica – ‘Wind Turbine’ – www.britannica.com.
  4. The British Wind Energy Association – ‘Wind Turbine Technology’ – Page 1.
  5. Renewable UK – ‘Wind Energy: How It Works’ – www.renewableuk.com.
  6. The British Wind Energy Association – ‘Wind Turbine Technology’ – Page 1.
  7. Enercon – ‘E126: State of the Art’ – www.enercon.de.
  8. Foster and Partners – ‘Projects: 30 St Mary Axe’ – www.fosterandpartners.com.
  9. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – ‘Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation’ – Page 552.
  10. Number of turbines based on Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas having 627 turbines. Sourced from E.ON – ‘E.ON Delivers First Phases of the World’s Largest Wind Farm’ – www.eon.com. Area covered by the largest wind farm to date based on the Jiuquan wind farm which has a capacity of 6 GW. Area calculated based on a capacity factor of 34% and 17 GWh of energy being generated per year per square kilometre of land. Jiuquan generating capacity sourced from Watts, Jonathan – ‘Winds of Change Blow Through China as Spending on Renewable Energy Soars’ – www.theguardian.com. Capacity factor based on 2014 data sourced from U.S. Energy Information Administration – ‘ Electric Power Monthly with Data for October 2016’ – Table 6.7.B. Energy per square kilometre based on two Watts of energy being generated per square metre and sourced from MacKay, David J.C. – ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’ – Page 33.
  11. Wind energy based on 2012 data sourced from International Energy Agency – ‘World: Renewables and Waste for 2012’ – www.iea.org. Distribution data sourced from Global Wind Energy Council – ‘Global Offshore’ – www.gwec.net.
  12. Please note, figure does not include power conditioning, distribution and transmission losses.
  13. Based on most continents having good access to high wind speeds.
  14. Schobert, Harold – ‘Energy: The Basics’ – Routledge – Page 162.
  15. The British Wind Energy Association – ‘Wind Turbine Technology’ – Page 4.
  16. Webb, Tim – ‘Rural Anger Over Surge in ‘Ugly’ Wind Farms’ – www.thetimes.co.uk.
  17. Layton, Julia – ‘Do Wind Turbines Cause Health Problems?’ – howstuffworks.com.
  18. Based on wind turbines currently killing an estimated 328,000 birds per year. This pales compared to the estimated one billion birds that die each year from striking closed windows. Bird deaths from wind turbines sourced from Eveleth, Rose – ‘How Many Birds Do Wind Turbines Really Kill?’ – www.smithsonianmag.com. Bird deaths from striking windows sourced from FLAP Canada – ‘Why We Care’ – www.flap.org.
  19. Based on the United States of America having a total land area of 9,147,420 square kilometres, the United States of America demanding 16.8 million GWh of energy per year, onshore turbines generating 17 GWh per hectare, a 2% loss due to power conditioning and 6.5% loss due to transmission and distribution. Land area sourced from The World Bank – ‘Land Area (SQ. KM)’ – data.worldbank.org. Energy demand based on 2012 data and sourced from International Energy Agency – ‘United States: Balances for 2012’ – www.iea.org. Energy generated by onshore turbines based on two Watts of energy being generated per square metre. Sourced from MacKay, David J.C. – ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’ – Page 33. Power conditioning losses based on data sourced from Fuji Electric – ‘Large-scale Photovoltaic Power Generation Systems’ – Page 7. Transmission and distribution losses based on 2007 data for the United States and sourced from U.S. Department of Energy – ‘Frequently Asked Questions – Electricity’ – tonto.eia.doe.gov.
  20. Intelligent Energy – ‘Wind Energy – The Facts’ – Page 329.
  21. European Commission – ‘Wind Energy’ – setis.ec.europa.eu.
  22. International Energy Agency – ‘Projected Costs of Generating Electricity’ (2010) – Page 62.
  23. European Wind Energy Association – ‘The Economics of Wind Energy’ – Page 35.
  24. Data based on two Watts of energy being generated per square metre and sourced from MacKay, David J.C. – ‘Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air’ – Page 33.
  25. Calculation undertaken within the ‘Renewable Solution’ section of the ‘ZERO-FIFTY World Energy Database’ and based on a lifespan of 25 years. Lifespan sourced from International Energy Agency – ‘Projected Costs of Generating Electricity’ (2010) – Page 43.
  26. No carbon offset data available so substituted with energy offset period. Sourced from Friends of the Earth Cymru – ‘Wind Power: 20 Myths Blown Away’ – Page 4.
  27. Hoogwijk, Monique and Graus, Wina – ‘Global Potential of Renewable Energy Sources: A Literature Assessment’ – Page 39.

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