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Walking in the wind

There was something special about the year 1887. Aside from being the year that Giuseppe Verdi premiered his first opera in over 15 years at Italy’s La Scala, it was also the year that the first windmill was built for electricity production in Glasgow, Scotland. Professor James Bluth of Anderson’s College was the person that made wind power a possibility. While he experimented with multiple windmill variations and designs, it is said that his final design powered his Scottish home for 25 years.

One hundred years later, Australia got its first commercial wind farm at Salmon Beach on the south-west coast of Australia. The wind farm provided power to the small town of Esperance in Western Australia, which had previously sourced almost all of its electricity from diesel generators. The success of the Salmon Beach Wind Farm led to an additional nine turbines being built at Ten Mile Lagoon in 1993, and a further six turbines were added at Nine Mile Beach in 2004. While the original Salmon Beach Wind Farm was decommissioned in 2002, Ten Mile Lagoon and Nine Mile Beach continue to operate today, supplying approximately 20 per cent of Esperance’s electricity needs.

The use of wind to generate electricity has increased steadily in Australia in subsequent years, with Australian wind power capacity almost tripling since 2009 to reach 4816 MW in 2017.

While South Australia tops the leaderboard at almost 40 per cent when it comes to wind production nationally, Western Victoria is home to the largest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere, the MacArthur Wind Farm. With 140, 3 MW turbines, it can generate enough clean energy to power approximately 154,000 Australian homes, displacing electricity that would usually be sourced from higher-emission sources.

Wind Turbines Sunset

Wind power is now the lowest-cost form of renewable energy that we can roll out on a large scale. In 2017, wind farms supplied 5.7 per cent of Australia’s total electricity generation and 33.8 per cent of the country’s clean energy. This was a significant milestone for wind power as it was the first time that its contribution to Australia’s renewable energy output was equal to that of hydro power. Technology is playing a key part in this, with a forecasting system from the Australian Energy Market Operator allowing experts to predict wind patterns ahead of time.

Looking to the future, the winds are only picking up. Advances in wind turbine technology have resulted in a reduction in the number of turbines required to generate the same amount of power and an increase in capacity factors to almost 50 per cent. Australia may also soon get its first offshore wind farm, with international funding secured for an $8 billion, 2000 MW project off Victoria’s Gippsland coastal region.

Despite the lack of federal policy underpinning renewable energy in Australia, investment and confidence in wind energy isn’t showing any signs of slowing down to a subtle breeze. While wind power may have had its origins in Scotland in the 19th century, it’s clear that it will play a crucial role in Australia’s 21st century clean energy transition.

To find out more about wind power in Australia, visit a wind farm on Saturday 21 October 2018 to celebrate Wind Farm Open Day. Visit our website for more information and to find your local participating wind farm.