By this point in the course, you have been told repeatedly that our energy and electric power systems are dominated by fossil fuels. And this is true. But you may be surprised to know that in the United States and many other countries, wind is among the fastest-growing sources of new power plant investment, as measured by megawatts of new capacity. In several areas, including Texas and the Mid-Atlantic (where a boom in fossil fuel production is currently underway), wind power is the largest source of new electrical generation capacity, making up a majority of new plants. That’s right – in oily Texas, more than 50% of new electrical generation in recent years has been from wind. In fact, Texas is the US leader in wind energy generation – much more than even California, which has somewhat greener political leanings.
In this section of the course we’ll take a look at what’s going on in all those tall towers sprouting up along ridgetops and plains – and out in the middle of the ocean, in some places. Humans have been harnessing the wind to do useful work in one fashion or another for many thousands of years – the first “wind energy” systems were actually sailboats. Humans have also been smart enough to realize that wind is a very useful cooling mechanism on hot days. So in some sense, the windows in our houses are a form of wind energy. Windmills (the precursor to today’s wind turbines) appear to have first been used in Greece around two thousand years ago.