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How it works

Wind, an indirect form of solar energy, is used to generate electricity via specially designed turbines that operate by converting the movement of the wind into a torque (rotational force) that turns a generator. The density of the air, the rotor geometry, and the wind speed determines the amount of energy produced. Wind power is a uniquely versatile form of renewable energy, as it can be used for a range of project sizes. At the smallest scale, micro wind technology harnesses wind power in an urban environment.

While wind resources are inherently variable due to daily and seasonal changes in wind speed and direction, extensive research and development in wind flow prediction, control of power output, and grid interaction mean that wind power is now a widely used, reliable source of clean energy.

Wind turbines typically consist of a rotor, a gearbox, a generator and a directional system, all of which are all mounted on top of a tower. More commonly, small scale wind technology is particularly useful for electricity generation on farms, for small businesses and in off-grid, remote locations. With a capacity of up to 100 kW, small wind power is often used to complement solar PV systems.

While there are still many small wind projects in operation, improvements in individual turbine capacity and overall power quality have contributed to a shift towards larger, utility-owned projects. These large-scale, grid connected energy power systems use many – often hundreds – of individual turbines to create generating capacities that can be in excess of 300 MW. A project proposed for New South Wales has an estimated operational capacity of over 1,000 MW.

Offshore wind farms, capable of harnessing huge wind resources, are a promising way of securing wind power. However, with many untapped wind resources on land, as well as the technical challenges posed by construction at sea, means that the commercial benefit of offshore wind for Australia is yet to be proven viable.

Wind in the Australian market

According to the 2010 ABARE Energy Resource Assessment, in 2007–08, Australia’s wind energy use represented only 0.2 per cent of total primary energy consumption and 1.5 per cent of total electricity generation. However, wind energy is the fastest growing energy source in Australia with an average annual growth of 69.5 per cent since 1999–00.

In October 2009, there were 85 wind farms in Australia with a combined installed capacity of 1.7 GW. These power stations are mainly located in South Australia (48 per cent), Victoria (23 per cent) and Western Australia (12 per cent). A further 11.3 GW of wind energy capacity has been proposed for development in Australia.

Future prospects

In the latest ABARE long-term energy projections (based on the RET and a 5 per cent emissions reduction target) wind energy is projected to generate 44 TWh of electricity in 2029–30, accounting for 12.1 per cent of Australia’s electricity generation. This represents 12 per cent average annual growth over the period to 2029–30.
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