The force behind wind power technology

People have harnessed the energy of the wind since early-recorded history but its power is urgently needed to help counter the global addiction to carbon fuels. Wind energy propelled boats along the Nile River as early as 5000 B.C.

By 200 B.C., simple windmills in China were pumping water, while vertical-axis windmills with woven reed sails were grinding grain in Persia and the Middle East. In the early 20th century farmers used windmills to grind grain, pump water, and cut wood at sawmills. Small windmills generated electricity in rural areas without electricity service. Windmills began a slow comeback after the oil shortages of the 1970s.

The global threat of climate change mainly through emissions from fossil fuel generation, higher costs for fossil fuels and increased government support have helped wind power capacity grow substantially over the past decade. By the end of 2009, according to the Global Wind Energy Council, the global installed capacity of wind powered generators stood at 159.2 GW.

At the end of 2010, the total installed capacity stood at 175 GW. Among the top wind power countries are China, the United States, Germany, Spain and India. In South Africa the opportunities for wind power have increased because of a favourable investment climate offering profitable feed-in tariffs for wind energy, increased costs of electricity and capacity shortages in power generation. Estimates for South Africa’s wind power potential vary from 20 000 MW to 30 000 MW of installed wind farm capacity.

The South African Wind Energy Association (Sawea) estimates that with the right policy framework, wind turbines could provide as much as 20% of the country’s energy demand by 2025. As wind power is harnessed on a larger scale, technology is a key growth driver for wind power.

ABB is a leading supplier of electrical products and solutions to the wind industry and over the last 30 years has supplied around 30 000 generators for wind turbines, totalling some 30 000 MW.
ABB provides components for wind turbines such as generators, converters, transformers, switchgear, low voltage motors and cables. The company’s solutions include system studies, substations, grid connections, compact secondary substations, HVDC Light for offshore wind farms and service and maintenance.

Innovations from ABB include special medium voltage inverters, a new family of permanent magnet generators for 1.5-3.6 MW wind turbines the PCS6000 wind converter for 5 MW offshore turbines and MV converters for large, multi-megawatt turbines.

ABB’s technology has been used in wind power farms and grid connections throughout the world: an offshore wind power connection of about $700 million to an HVDC Light transmission link to connect three North Sea wind farms to the German power grid; an order of $400 million for power equipment for the world’s largest offshore wind farm; and power transformers for China’s highest-voltage wind farm substation.

Rapidly depleting natural resources and the environmental impact of traditional fossil fuels are increasing the demand for clean technologies such as wind power. Wind power, emission free, renewable and eco-friendly, can be expected to make significant contributions in future energy generation.

ABB South Africa will showcase the group’s wind power technologies at the 3rd Wind Power Africa Conference from 9 to 11 May 2011, at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

For further information, contact [email protected] or visit

This article originally appeared in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as an advertorial

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