Wind is a type of renewable energy. Wind power catches wind, and converts it into mechanical energy and then into electricity. People started using wind power centuries ago with windmills, which were used to do things like pump water and grind grain. However, the turbines of today have evolved – a lot. According to the American Wind Energy Association, “Most wind turbines have three blades and sit atop a steel tubular tower, and they range in size from 80-foot-tall turbines that can power a single home to utility-scale turbines that are over 260 feet tall and power hundreds of homes.” Here’s an interesting video from the Science Channel showing how a wind turbine is made. Now, let’s take a look at some of the good, the bad and the future of wind power:
The Good (the advantages of wind power)
- According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Wind energy preserves water resources.” And, “By 2050, wind energy can save 260 billion gallons of water – the equivalent to roughly 400,000 Olympic-size swimming pools – that would have been used by the electric power sector.”
- Utilizing wind power can replace the need to build new power plants that rely on fossil fuels such as natural gas or coal.
- From the University of Delaware: “Traditional fossil fuel-generated electricity requires consistent input of a fuel; typically oil, gas or coal. These non-renewable resources must be located, extracted, transported, processed, burned and the waste treated and removed. Each of these processes costs money throughout the life of the generating plant. Wind turbines simply use the force of the wind as fuel, and only require periodic maintenance. […] If we look at all forms of electricity generation stripped of the apparent and hidden subsidies, then wind power is competitive.”
- Wind energy is truly a clean fuel source and is an unlimited natural resource.
- Wind turbines are able to be installed fairly quickly.
The Bad (the challenges of wind power)
- Wind power must still compete with conventional generation sources on a cost basis.
- Depending on how energetic a wind site is, the wind farm may or may not be cost competitive. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Even though the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past 10 years, the technology requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fueled generators.”
- Wind sites are often located in remote areas, far from cities where the electricity is needed the most. Lines to transport the electricity must be constructed to get it from the wind farm to the city.
- Although wind power plants have relatively little impact on the environment compared to other conventional power plants, some people are concerned over the noise produced by the rotor blades and the visual impacts of the turbines.
- The turbine blades may damage local wildlife. Sometimes birds have been killed by flying into the rotors. But, according to the University of Delaware, “Such effects on the environment are relatively small when, for example, compared to oil spills that can kill birds and other animals, mountain mining of coal, air pollution from power plants that can harm both wildlife and humans, entrainment and mortality of fish by hydroelectric dams, and nuclear waste.” This is a concern that continues to be addressed and ways to reduce this impact continue to be studied.
The Future of Wind Energy
- According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, there are new technologies being developed for use in offshore and low-wind areas. “Engineers are creating new blade designs, more efficient turbines and ocean mooring systems to produce economical wind energy in regions like the American heartland, stretching from central Texas to the Canadian border, and coastal areas from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf of Mexico to Cape Cod. In addition, new technologies to drive our power grid will allow us to make better use of our existing grid so that we can minimize the impact of the transmission lines needed to deliver wind power to our cities.”
- As the benefits of wind energy continue to grow, the costs associated with it will start to fall in order to compete with the cheapest traditional energy sources, such as natural gas. By 2020, the U.S. Department of Energy plans to bring the cost of land-based wind energy down by 18 percent and the cost of offshore wind energy down by 63 percent. Wind power will expand to meet a much larger portion of U.S. energy demand. Experts at the National Renewable Energy Lab, a federal research lab, show that wind energy could supply 30 percent of the nation’s electricity without any additional technologies.
- Bird and bat safety must continue to be a priority.
- Limitations of the current power transmission system (i.e., getting electricity from the wind farms to the consumer) must be addressed.
For more information about the Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy, visit http://energy.gov/eere/wind/advantages-and-challenges-wind-energy.