This article contains the most important facts about wind power that should be included on any balanced wind energy pros and cons list. Everything you are about to read is properly referenced at the bottom of this page.
See in-depth explanations further down. Let`s start with a quick overview:
Pros of Wind Energy
- Wind energy is a green energy source and does not cause pollution.
- The potential of wind power is enormous – 20 times more than what the entire human population needs.
- Wind power is renewable and there is no way we can run out of it (since wind energy originates from the sun).
- Wind turbines are incredible space-efficient. The largest of them generate enough electricity to power 600 U.S. homes.
- Wind power only accounts for about 2.5% of total worldwide electricity production, but is growing at a promising rate of 25% per year (2010).
- Prices have decreased over 80% since 1980 and are expected to keep decreasing.
- The operational costs associated with wind power are low.
- Good domestic potential: Residential wind turbines yields energy savings and protects homeowners from power outages.
Cons of Wind Energy
- Wind is a fluctuating (intermittent) source of energy and is not suited to meet the base load energy demand unless some form of energy storage is utilized (e.g. batteries, pumped hydro).
- The manufacturing and installation of wind turbines requires heavy upfront investments – both in commercial and residential applications.
- Wind turbines can be a threat to wildlife (e.g. birds, bats).
- Noise is regularly reported as a problem by neighboring homes.
- How wind turbines look (aesthetics) is a legitimate concern for some people.
Wind energy is a green energy source. Harnessing wind energy does not pollute the environment nearly as much as fossil fuels, coal and nuclear power do.
It is true that the manufacturing, transportation and installation of a wind turbine contributes to global warming slightly, but the electricity production itself does not involve any emissions of climate gases whatsoever.
There are some environmental issues associated with wind energy that we will discuss in the disadvantages section.
2. Enormous Potential
As mentioned in the introduction of this article, the potential of wind power is absolutely incredible. Several independent research teams have reached the same conclusions: The worldwide potential of wind power is more than 400 TW (terawatts).
Harnessing wind energy can be done almost anywhere. Whether or not a resource is financially feasible is another question.
Wind energy is a renewable source of energy. Wind is naturally occurring and there is no way we can empty the energy resources. Wind energy actually originates from the nuclear fusion processes that take place on the sun.
As long as the sun keeps shining (don`t worry, according to scientists it will for another 6-7 billion years)?, we will be able to harness wind energy on earth. This is not the case for fossil fuels (e.g. oil and natural gas), which our society relies heavily on today.
The largest wind turbines are capable of generating enough electricity to meet the energy demand of 600 average U.S. homes. The wind turbines can`t be placed too close to each other, but the land in-between can be used for other things. This is why many farms would benefit more from installing wind turbines as opposed to solar panels.
5. Rapid Growth
Although wind power only accounts for about 2.5% of total worldwide electricity production, the capacity is growing at an incredible rate of 25% per year (2010). This does not only contribute in the fight against global warming, but also helps lowering costs:
6. Prices are Decreasing
Prices have decreased over 80% since 1980. Thanks to technological advancements and increased demand, prices are expected keep decreasing in the foreseeable future.
7. Low Operational Costs
It is generally true that operational costs tend to be low once the turbines first have been manufactured and erected. However, not every wind turbine is created equal – some are more susceptible to maintenance than others.
8. Good Domestic Potential
People can generate their own electricity with wind power in much the same manner as people do with the best solar panels (photovoltaics).
Net metering (currently implemented in more than 40 states across the U.S.) allows homeowners to receive bill credits for their excess electricity productionThere is good money to save/earn with residential wind turbines, but maybe the best perks come from not being reliant the utility for electricity, which can protect you from blackouts as well as fluctuating energy prices.
Disadvantages of Wind Energy
Wind is unpredictable and the availability of wind energy is not constant. Wind energy is therefore not well suited as a base load energy source. If we had cost-effective ways of storing wind energy the situation would be different.
We can hope for breakthroughs in energy storage technologies in the future, but right now, wind turbines have to be used in tandem with other energy sources to meet our energy demand with consistency.
The cost-competitiveness of wind power is highly debatable. Both utility-scale wind farms and small residential wind turbines typically rely heavily on financial incentives. This is to give wind power a fair chance in the fierce competition against already well-established energy sources such as fossil fuels and coal.
Solar power (PV) is generally regarded as the first choice for homeowners looking to become energy producers themselves, but wind turbines make an excellent alternative in some situations. It would take a wind turbine of about 10 kilowatts and $40,000 to $70,000 to become a net electricity producer. Investments like this typically break even after 10 to 20 years.
5. Threat to Wildlife
Birds, bats and other flying creatures have slim chances of surviving when taking a direct hit from a rotating wind turbine blade. However, some environmentalists have blown this issue out of proportions.
Studies have estimated the number of annual avian fatalities by U.S. wind turbines from 10,000 all the way to 440,000. As a comparison, collisions with buildings may kill up to 976 million birds.
Noise is a problem for some people that live in the proximity of wind turbines. Building wind turbines in urban environments should be avoided. Noise is not a problem with offshore wind turbines at all. New designs show significant improvements compared to older models and generate less noise.
While most people actually like how wind turbines look, there is always some who don`t. Wind turbines leave a smaller footprint on land compared to the majority of other energy sources (including solar, nuclear and coal). The problem is mitigated if the wind turbines are built outside urban areas.
What exactly is wind energy? Wind energy actually comes from the sun. Solar radiation unevenly heats the surface of earth, which causes hot air to rise and cool air to fill the void. This movement is the definition of wind energy. Wind is a kinetic form of energy (motion).
There are several techniques we can use to harness this energy. Wind power is a term used to encapsulate all processes that convert wind energy into useful work. This article has mainly been about the advantages and disadvantages of generating electricity with wind turbines (one aspect of wind power).
How can we generate electricity with wind energy? Wind turbines are complicated, but here’s the basic gist: Kinetic energy in the wind is converted into mechanical energy (the rotation of turbine blades), which again is converted into electricity by a generator sitting inside the hub of the structure.
The bottom line: The future of wind power looks promising. The development of several massive wind farms (both on- and offshore) is taking place as you read this. It will be interesting to see how far we’ve come ten years from now. The United States aims to produce at least 20 percent of its electricity by wind power by 2030.
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Author: Mathias Aarre Mæhlum
Last Update: 25 December 2012