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  • Harnessing the wind to make work easier is not a new technology. People have been using wind to mill grain, draw water and to power their boats for thousands of years. As we become increasingly concerned about the impacts of fossil fuels on climate change, the idea of electricity generated through wind has much appeal.

    Rights: Betty-Anne Kamp

    Windmills in the Netherlands

    Windmills have been around for a long time. The traditional windmills, as well as their modern cousins, are a common sight in the Dutch landscape.

    Wind power uses the kinetic energy from the wind to turn large turbines, transforming the energy into electricity that we can then use. The most common type of turbine consists of a number of long blades, with the turbine attached to a pole many metres above the ground. The location of a turbine (or many turbines together, called a wind farm) is vital – they need to be in an area of constant wind.

    Rights: 123RF LimitedSebastian Kaulitzki

    Wind turbine

    Close up view of a wind turbine used in modern wind farms.

    By the end of 2023, New Zealand will have 19 on-shore wind farms operating, with a total installed capacity of 1,045 MW. Like those in the Tararuas and in Wairarapa, these wind farms are ideally situated to capture good levels of wind. The Tararua wind farm near Palmerston North in the North Island, for example, operates 90–95% of the time. In 2007, overall wind-generated power only accounted for about 2% of power generated in New Zealand, in 2018 it increased to 6%. By the end of 2023 it is anticipated wind farsm will represent around 10% of New Zealand’s total installed generation capacity – generating enough energy to supply over 450,000 homes a year.

    There are many benefits to using wind power. It is a green renewable resource because we will not run out of wind, and wind produces no harmful wastes. Wind farms have little running cost once built compared to traditional electricity producers, and the time taken to build a wind farm is usually short. Plus, once built, additional turbines can be added as supply grows.

    Rights: 123RF Limited

    Wind farm

    Wind farms are being built as an alternative source of energy generation.

    One of the biggest problems facing wind powered generation is that they are considered to be an eyesore. While we may want the electricity generated by a wind turbine, few of us want one in our back yard! Some people living in the vicinity of wind farms also find the noise the blades generate can be problematic. Another problem associated with wind farms is the possibility that they may be detrimental to wildlife. Studies continue to be carried out to see if wind turbines interfere with the sonar of bats and the migration pathways of birds. Both of these problems are taken into consideration when resource consents are being sought. This process allows people near proposed sites to argue for or against wind farms.

    Related content

    Other renewable energy sources include solar, water, geothermal power and bioenergy – they all play an important part in reducing the use of non-renewable resources.

    Activity ideas

    In this activity, students calculate the kinetic and potential energy of a specific object.

    In this activity, students answer a short multichoice survey to identify and address common alternative conceptions about fossil fuels.

    Useful links

    Check out the New Zealand Wind Energy Association website for more information.

    See this map showing all the on-shore wind farms in New Zealand.

    This article includes a link to an animation and diagrams showing how wind turbines work.

    The New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) focuses on energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources.

    Gen Less is a government agency dedicated to mobilising New Zealanders to be world leaders in clean and clever energy use, explore how business can run more sustainably with renewable energy.

    MBIE is responsible for maintaining data on New Zealand’s generation stack. This is a list containing information on the costs of existing and new electricity generation plants in New Zealand, it includes reports on geothermal, hydro, thermal, solar and wind power.

      Published 10 June 2008, Updated 23 October 2023 Referencing Hub articles
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