Renewable energy technologies are key to creating a clean energy future for all Australians. Renewable energy is no longer an unusuable hypothetical power source, but a viable alternative to fossil fuels. Renewable energy also has long-term economic and environmental benefits.
Renewable energy comes from natural sources such as the wind or sun, and either lasts forever or can be replenished over time. Renewables can provide us with clean electricity, heating and transport fuels.
There are many forms of renewable energy, including solar, wind, hydro, biomass (from plants and trees), wave, tidal and geothermal (which harnesses the heat of the earth's core). Australia is lucky to have excellent reserves of all forms of renewable energy, though these are not used to their full extent.
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Wind is a clean, inexhaustible energy resource that can generate enough electricity to power millions of homes and businesses. Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing forms of electricity generation in the world.
Wind power uses the force of the wind to drive a turbine that produces electricity. Typically, turbines are clustered in "wind farms" scattered throughout reliably windy areas and often share space with productive agricultural lands. Wind farms, like other large scale electricity generation facilities, are connected to the electricity grid. Wind power is delivered to homes and businesses just like other sources of electricity.
Australia has some of the best wind resources in the world, but these are vastly underutilised. Australia currently has around 50 wind farms with some 700 turbines in operation, with more under construction.
Over 1000 megawatts of wind energy is currently installed in Australia, with a further 6000MW in planning. In an average year that creates over 2500 gigawatt-hours of electricity — enough to power 348,000 homes or around 80% of Adelaide's domestic consumption.
By comparison, in the USA, wind energy currently produces approximately 24,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity per annum, the equivalent of 2.3 million homes' consumption. In Europe, over 48,000MW of wind energy has been installed, producing 145,000 gigawatt-hours per year, which is enough to supply almost 28 million households.
Green electricity from wind helps Australia cut its greenhouse gas emissions by almost 3,256,000 tonnes of CO2 every year. That is the equivalent of taking 752,000 cars off our roads or planting 4.86 million trees.
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Manufacturing wind turbines and developing wind farms create jobs, diversifies local economies, and increases local tax bases. Because wind farm jobs are often located in rural areas, they add economic diversity to a region, cushioning local economies from changes in other sectors. The wind energy industry in Australia currently has over $2 billion in capital investment with the potential for billions more. Already, every year, some $3 million goes directly to landholders who host wind turbines on their land, while another $24 million is spent on operational and maintenance costs, much of it in regional areas. This investment has created hundreds of jobs and a guaranteed income for many farmers who are still able to carry out normal farming activities on 98% of their land.
Australia has excellent wind resources by world standards. The southern coastline lies in the roaring forties and hundreds of sites have high average wind speeds at the height of a modern generator. Southwest Western Australia, southeast South Australia, western Victoria, northern Tasmania and elevated areas of New South Wales and Queensland all have very good wind resources. Australian wind farms produce on average capacity factors of 30–35%, making wind an attractive option in this country.
Because wind farms are on Australian soil, the power they produce would never be subject to international price spikes or interruptions from conflicts overseas. And once a wind farm is constructed, the fuel is free forever.
By 2012, electricity from new wind power projects will be competitive with electricity from new conventional power plants. The cost of wind power depends on how strongly and reliably the wind blows. In very windy areas, wind power is very inexpensive. Because the wind does not blow all the time, wind power must be combined with other energy sources, but it can replace high-cost fuels like natural gas and save consumers money.
Wind power helps reduce air pollution from electricity generation facilities powered by coal, natural gas and other non-renewable fuels. Because wind turbines do not burn fuel, they do not emit any carbon monoxide, particulate, and toxic chemical emissions that threaten public health and the environmental.
A wind farm, when installed on agricultural land, has one of the lowest environmental impacts of all energy sources: