Wind power has long been hailed as a clean and renewable source of energy, which will help to reduce our reliance on polluting fossil fuels. But, is there a downside?
Wind energy has enormous potential – it could potentially provide 20 times more power than the human population requires. It is becoming one of the fastest growing energy sources in the world. Approximately 2.5% of the total global electricity production is courtesy of wind energy, but capacity was growing upwards of 25% in 2010. Its use will help fight global warming and will help to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels such as oil and gas.
Benefits of Power Generation Using Wind Energy
Wind is naturally occurring, originating from nuclear fusion processes in the Sun. Solar radiation unevenly heats the surface of the Earth as it rotates, causing hot air to rise and cool air to fill the void – this movement is the very definition of wind. The wind’s kinetic energy can be converted into mechanical energy by the rotation of turbine blades, which transform the energy into electricity via a generator in the hub of the structure. So, as long as the Sun shines and the wind blows, wind energy can be harnessed to generate power using resources that will never be depleted.
Furthermore, wind power constitutes a clean source of energy. It doesn’t pollute the air, it is renewable, and there is lots of wind waiting to be harnessed. It is also free and cost-effective, with the ability to provide energy to numerous homes and businesses.
Wind turbines are space efficient; they can be installed anywhere there is wind and don’t take up much space. They can’t be placed too close together, so more often than not they are found offshore. However, when installed on land, the space in between the turbines can be utilized. Installing wind turbines on agricultural land is popular, as they take up less space than solar panels and could be an extra source of income for farmers.
The price of wind energy has steadily decreased by over 80% since 1980 and is expected to keep falling thanks to improved technology and increasing demand. Operational costs are close to zero once a wind turbine starts turning, but research is ongoing in order to ensure wind energy is a cheaper, more viable alternative for businesses and individuals to generate power.
Manufacturing and installing wind turbines can, however, be expensive, requiring a large upfront investment whether it be on commercial or private land. Add to this the cost of maintaining and repairing the fixtures, and expenses can escalate.
Disadvantages of Wind Turbines
The environmental costs associated with manufacturing, transporting, and installing wind turbines - although small and probably offset by the fact that electricity production involves no greenhouse emissions - will still contribute to global warming. Furthermore, wind turbines represent a threat to wildlife. Their edges are unsafe and are particularly dangerous if built on migration routes. Birds and bats stand a slim chance if hit by a rotating blade.
Where the turbine is situated is incredibly important during installation. Turbines rely on the wind and can only harness energy where wind speed is high. Often, turbines only function at 30% capacity, and there is no way to reliably store the energy produced. The energy that can be harvested must be maximized, so wind farms are usually found in remote areas such as out at sea. In addition to the extra transmission lines needed to bring power to the grid, this can make installation difficult and costly. When building on land it is sometimes necessary to fell trees, a move which is detrimental to the environmental and contrary to the aims of renewable energies.
There is also the health and safety aspect to consider. Wind turbines can easily be damaged by storms and high winds, especially if struck by lightning. As damaged blades are liable to fall off and harm the surrounding area, they are particularly hazardous on land. Moreover, they can be a source of noise and visual pollution. They are not particularly attractive and can be difficult to install and deal with. Turbines function at around 50 to 60 decibels which is roughly equivalent to the hum of a fridge, regular speech, or an air conditioning unit. Of course, these are not issues if the turbines are placed offshore.
While wind energy represents a clean, renewable, and cheap alternative to fossil fuels, there are high costs associated with the manufacture, installation, and maintenance of turbines, not to mention the potential damage to wildlife and surrounding areas following high winds. However, they have the potential to reduce our reliance on polluting sources of energy and are a cost-effective means of helping to save the planet.
References and Further Reading
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