Today I want to write about the increasing scale of wind power. Humanity has used windmills to grid corn, pump water and saw logs for many centuries, and propel sailing boats for even longer. Wind turbines were first used from the 1880’s to generate electricity on a small experimental scale. The modern wind industry was born in Denmark in 1979 as several companies started making turbines commercially. They were 20 to 30 Kw each, compared with the current largest turbines such as the Enercon E-126 which is 7 Mw.: about a 300 fold increase in scale. Increases in scale were small to start with but seem to be getting increasingly rapid.
The first modern wind farm is generally reckoned to be Crotched Mountain in New Hampshire, USA, which opened in 1980 with 20 x 30 Kw turbines: 600 Kw capacity. Currently the largest one actually completed is Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas, which uses 627 variously sized turbines to generate a total power output of 780 Mw: a scale increase of over 1000 times the Crotched Mountain wind farm. The question now is how long will the trend to increase scale continue? There are projects currently underway or in the planning stages which will push this upper limit a long way.
The London Array in the Thames Estuary is planned to provide 1,000 Mw, cover 90 square miles, and the first phase is due to be completed in 2012. This though is dwarfed by plans for the Markbygden project in Northern Sweden, which is due to produce 4,000 Mw and be completed by 2020. By then China will probably have completed the even larger Ordos Renewable Energy Park, which is planned to have a total capacity of 11,950 Mw, of which 6,950 is expected to be wind with concentrating solar, solar pv, biomass and pumped storage hydro making up the rest. Ordos, in total, will be 20,000 times the size of Crotched Mountain!
I do see a place for vast scale multi-renewable projects like Ordos, and a supergrid. Not exactly “Small is Beautiful”. More like “Massive is Wonderful”. That is if we’re serious about closing down the global coal, oil and nuclear industries, simultaneously and globally!