In ancient times humans started making use of the power of the wind by harnessing its energy. Sails were used to propel boats or ships with the power of the wind and later on grain grinding mills and water pumps were powered by wind energy as well. Throughout the years big transformations have taken place in this area. This becomes very obvious when we look at todayʼs modern and efficient devices and machines. Wind energy also seems to be a perfect combination with solar energy, perhaps even together with geothermal and hydroelectric energy.
Letʼs see what the situation in the UK is like and what Lucy and Jack think about it, both of them living on an island with lots of wind after all. And donʼt we all know the old Chinese proverb ‘When the wind of change blows some people build walls, others build wind millsʼ.
Lucy: You must be very happy now with all your environmentally-friendly devices in your house and on its roof, Uncle Jack. Is there anything else we could do to reduce our carbon footprint? The Fridays for Future movement is more and more taking its toll.
Jack: Oh, there is definitely more we could do. Only depending on one energy source is never a good idea. Think of stormy conditions, for example, when the sun doesnʼt shine or calm days with little wind but sunshine. Wind energy is also a very exciting project.
Lucy: Wow, that sounds interesting. Why not build a little wind mill here, right next to your house? Just a small one, nice and cosy. Iʼve just read in a magazine that you can rent them here in England in some places and spend a wonderful romantic holiday there. But living in one all the time would be even better, of course.
Jack: Hold your horses, young lady. Iʼve just spent a fortune on the photovoltaic system including the battery. And if you want to make or save money with something like wind energy, we wonʼt be talking about such romantic retreats that are advertised in the newspaper. But youʼre basically right. The UK is a good place to generate wind energy – onshore or offshore.
Lucy: Is the UK as progressive regarding wind energy as with solar energy?
Jack: Well, we had a bit of a slow start after Denmark and then Germany and were really lagging behind for quite a while, but weʼve made up for it in the meantime and lead the world in offshore deployment. Especially Scotland has one of the best wind resources in the world.
Lucy: What do you mean by offshore?
Jack: There are different types of wind energy – onshore and offshore. Onshore wind refers to turbines that are built on land. You must have seen those wind parks. Offshore wind turbines on the other hand are built out at sea. The force of the wind there is much higher and more constant than on land, because there arenʼt any barriers. We have the East Anglia ONE in the North Sea, for example. It consists of 102 wind turbines which will all be connected to the national grid. That will be the worldʼs biggest offshore wind farm when it starts running in 2020.
Lucy: Thatʼs incredible, where will it be located?
Jack: The farm will stand 50 km from the coast of the county of Suffolk. It will cover an area of 300 km², a size comparable to 40,000 football pitches. The turbines will have a height of 167 meters and the blades have a length of 75 meters. 630,000 British households can be supplied with energy in this way with a total capacity of 714 MW.
Lucy: How are the wind turbines anchored in the ground?
Jack: Well, donʼt ask me, because seabed preparation, installation of wind turbine foundations and the offshore high voltage stations including all the cables necessary must be a hell of a job and will involve many contractors and suppliers. But thereʼs also a new development which is called floating wind power.
Lucy: Oh, sounds like a modern expression for a sailing boat.
Jack: Well, thereʼs a bit more to it. The challenge is to generate electricity in water depths where bottom fixed structures are not feasible. Therefore, offshore wind turbines are mounted on a floating structure in water depths exceeding 50 to 60 meters. It seems that the best wind resources exist in deeper waters. They can be developed faster as less foundation material is necessary for their installation. There are many such projects all over the world at the moment, but the only major operational windfarm is Hywind in Scotland. They have five floating turbines with a total capacity of 30 MW.
Lucy: Thatʼs remarkable. But how much energy can the wind actually generate?
Jack: According to official sources, one third of the UKʼs electricity could be provided by offshore wind parks by 2030. Weʼre the windiest place in Europe after all, which should keep our windmills turning. Our wind turbines produce electricity 70-80% of the time, which makes them a reliable source of power throughout the year. But itʼs up to the government, of course, whether they want to continue investing in onshore production and thus increase green energy. Most onshore wind turbines have a capacity of 2-3 MW and can produce more than 6 million kwh of electricity per year. Thatʼs enough for roughly 1,500 households on average.
Lucy: Does it mean that the faster the wind blows, the more electricity is generated?
Jack: Well, in fact when the wind speed doubles, up to eight times more electricity can be generated. When the wind is too strong, however, turbines will shut themselves down to prevent being damaged.
Lucy: Seems that finding the right location for the wind mills is also very important.
Jack: Of course, it should be guaranteed that thereʼs a reliable amount of wind all year round. This is mostly on summits of hilltops with lots of open space around or in locations on or near the coast. Scotland and Cornwall are therefore perfect places.
Lucy: Can wind energy be stored just like solar energy?
Jack: Yes, it can be stored in different ways, but the most common is through battery storage. And just like solar energy, it can then be used when resources are running low.
Lucy: Can you explain to me in simple words, mind you, not complicated, how wind turbines work?
Jack: Well, let me try. Most wind turbines nowadays consist of three blades that rotate clockwise. The blades start rotating when hit by wind, even with only gentle breezes. At the top of a wind turbine, thereʼs a box-like structure, called nacelle. The spinning motion of the blades turns a shaft in the nacelle. An integrated generator then converts the kinetic energy, also called movement energy, of the turning shaft into electrical energy. Subsequently, this energy passes through a transformer which converts the electricity to the right voltage for the local network. The energy can then be transported on the National Grid or be used by a local site. Thatʼs the basic principle of how turbines generate electricity, whatever their size.
Lucy: Okay, understood. But what is the general opinion of people here in the UK about wind energy? In Germany we had some fierce and heated debates about it. It turned out that everybody wants to have sufficient electricity but nobody wants to live with the consequences, such as wind turbines close to where they live etc. etc.
Jack: As we all know, there are always two sides to the coin, but letʼs discuss this another time. I have to make an urgent telephone call with a customer who seems to have some trouble with his heating. See you later, dear.
Some English wind idioms
Instead of bothering you with grammar again today, I thought you might be interested in some English wind idioms and their meanings. Remember the definition of an idiom is ‘a group of words in a fixed order that have a particular meaning that is different from the meaning of each word on its ownʼ.
- To get wind of something meaning: hear about something secret or private (von etwas Wind bekommen)
A journalist got wind of a story about the corrupt politician.
- To go/run/drive like the wind meaning: go/run/drive very fast (wie der Wind laufen/rennen/fahren)
We had to drive like the wind to get there in time.
- In the wind meaning: something is about to happen soon, although you do not know exactly when (etwas liegt in der Luft)
I can see some changes in the wind.They all felt that something was in the wind.
- To put the wind up somebody meaning: to make somebody frightened about something (jemandem Angst einjagen)
He really put the wind up her with his ghost stories.
- To take the wind out of somebodyʼs sails meaning: make somebody feel less confident or angry, especially when you do or say something unexpected (jemandem den Wind aus den Segeln nehmen)
When the boss just smiled and agreed with her, it rather took the wind out of her sails.
- To throw caution to the wind (s) meaning: stop caring about how dangerous sth might be, start taking risks (alle Vorsicht in den Wind schlagen)
He threw caution to the wind and dived in after the child.
- A wind/the winds of change meaning: and event or a series of events that has started to happen and will cause important changes or results (frischer Wind, Wind des Wandels)
Thereʼs a wind of change in the attitude of voters.
- Itʼs an ill wind (that blows nobody any good) meaning: no problem is so bad that it does not bring some advantage to sb (an allem lässt sich auch etwas Gutes finden)
The fire destroyed half the village. For the builders, business has never been better. Itʼs an ill wind …
- To sail close to the wind meaning: behave in a way that is almost illegal or socially unacceptable (sich hart an der Grenze des Erlaubten bewegen)
Sheʼs been late for work three times this week, which is sailing close to the wind, I think.
- To get your second wind meaning: find strength, energy or enthusiasm after feeling tired or after a period when you produce little (wieder Luft/Energie bekommen)
After midnight the dancers seemed to get their second wind and went on till dawn.
(Note: This expression comes from running. After feeling out of breath at the beginning of a race, you later find it easier to breathe.)
- To be three sheets to the wind meaning: to be drunk (völlig betrunken sein)
By 11 oʼclock he was three sheets to the wind and we had to take him home.
(Note: This idiom comes from sailing.
If three sheets (= the ropes attached to the sails) are loose, the wind blows the sails about and the boat moves in a very unsteady way.)
- To see which way the wind blows meaning: See what most people think, or what is likely to happen before you decide how to act yourself (feststellen, woher der Wind weht)
Most politicians are careful to see which way the windʼs blowing before they make up their minds.
And two more about windmills:
- When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, other build windmills. meaning: Change can cause people to become frightened.
They want to stay with what’s known even when it’s rendered obsolete.
- To tilt at windmills meaning: to waste your energy attacking imaginary enemies (gegen Windmühlen kämpfen)
For some reason he thinks everyone is out to get him, but heʼs really just tilting at windmills.
(Note: This expression comes from the novel Don Quixote, in which the hero thought that the windmills he was were giants and tried to fight them.)
So much for today. Next time we will see how Lucy and Jack discuss the challenges of wind power and there will be some more information about English tenses.
So, stay tuned!