An intermittent energy source is any source of energy that is not continuously available due to some factor outside direct control. The intermittent source may be quite predictable, for example, tidal power, but cannot be dispatched to meet the demand of a power system. Effective use of intermittent sources in an electric power grid usually relies on using the intermittent sources to displace fuel that would otherwise be consumed by non-renewable power stations, or by storing energy in the form of renewable pumped storage, compressed air or ice, for use when needed, or as electrode heating for district heating schemes.
The storage of energy to fill the shortfall intermittency or for emergencies is part of a reliable energy supply. The capacity of a reliable renewable energy supply, can additionally be fulfilled by the use of latency measures and backup or extra infrastructure and technology, using mixed renewables to produce electricity above the intermittent average, which may be utilised to meet regular and unanticipated supply demands.
The penetration of intermittent renewables in most power grids is low, but wind generates circa 16% (EWEA - 2011 European Statistics, February 2012) of electric energy in Spain and Portugal, 9% in Ireland, and 7% in Germany. Wind provides nearly 20% of the electricity generated in Denmark; to operate with this level of penetration, Denmark exports surpluses and imports during shortfalls to and from the EU grid, particularly Norwegian Hydro, to balance supply with demand. It also uses large numbers of combined heat and power (CHP) stations which can rapidly adjust output. The large thermal stores in these systems are also utilised to store surplus wind energy, since thermal storage is the cheapest form of energy storage.
A wind turbine is a device that converts kinetic energy from the wind, also called wind energy, into mechanical energy; a process known as wind power. If the mechanical energy is used to produce electricity, the device may be called a wind turbine or wind power plant. If the mechanical energy is used to drive machinery, such as for grinding grain or pumping water, the device is called a windmill or wind pump. Similarly, it may be referred to as a wind charger when used for charging batteries.
The result of over a millennium of windmill development and modern engineering, today's wind turbines are manufactured in a wide range of vertical and horizontal axis types. The smallest turbines are used for applications such as battery charging or auxiliary power on boats; while large grid-connected arrays of turbines are becoming an increasingly important source of wind power-produced commercial electricity.