Many nations in the world today are faced with unstable energy supplies often leading to rising fuel prices and energy shortages. Additionally, the negative effects of
fossil fuel utilization on the quality of our air are well-documented. The problem is
that many nations have an imbalance in the supply and demand of energy. Basically,
they use more than they produce. To address this imbalance, many engineers are
considering developing advanced systems to access other sources of energy, including wind energy. In fact, wind energy is one of the fastest-growing forms of energy
generation in the United States and in other locations around the world. A wind
farm now in use in western Texas is illustrated in Figure 1.21.
In 2002, the installed global wind energy capacity was over 31,000 MW. In the
United States, there was enough energy derived from wind to power over 3 million
homes (according to the American Wind Energy Association). For the past 30 years,
researchers have concentrated on developing technologies that work well in high
wind areas (defined to be areas with a wind speed of at least 6.7 m s at a height of
10 m). Most of the easily accessible high wind sites in the United States are now utilized, and improved technology must be developed to make lower wind areas more
cost effective. New developments are required in materials and aerodynamics so
that longer turbine rotors can operate efficiently in the lower winds, and in a related
problem, the towers that support the turbine must be made taller without increasing
the overall costs. In addition, advanced controls will have to be employed to enable
the level of efficiency required in the wind generation drive train.
Advances in alternate energy products, such as the hybrid automobile and the
generation of efficient wind power generators, provide vivid examples of mechatronics development. There are numerous other examples of intelligent systems
poised to enter our everyday life, including smart home appliances (e.g., dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, and microwave ovens), wireless network enabled devices,
“human-friendly machines” [81] which perform robot-assisted surgery, and implantable sensors and actuators.