Wind energy is among the fastest-growing sustainable energy sources in the world. That comes as no surprise – humanity used the power of the wind as far back as the oldest recorded history. It only started to resemble the shape of technology we know today in the early 20th century when wind generators with turbines entered the market. Despite its benefits, this power source remains out of the limelight. This is likely because the technology remains out of sight, far from densely inhabited places, and isn’t as common for personal use. We’ll hopefully change that perception by presenting the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy. Let’s start.
Advantages of wind energy
As usual, we prefer to start with the positives. Here are several key pros of wind energy:
Clean energy source
Wind energy is a carbon-free source of energy. It emits no greenhouse gases or pollutants during operation and doesn’t require the use of coal or fossil fuels during conversion to electric energy. Besides benefits to the environment, this helps with the reduction of health issues of the population and aid agriculture, and not necessarily the one nearby. Pollutants released into the atmosphere can travel great distances. This, besides cardiovascular and respiratory issues to living beings, can also block sunlight and release toxic chemicals into the soil (think acid rain), effectively killing off plants.
Renewable source of energy
The wind is an inexhaustible energy source, which the early civilizations knew and appreciated for millenniums. And just like it provided power to the ship sails, it powers wind turbines, whose rotation generates electricity. So, unless a disaster of cataclysmic proportions happens, we can theoretically rely on the wind forever. This is vital. Unless we stumble upon new ones, researchers stated that, by 2052, our oil reserves will run out. Researchers also expect we’ll lose gas reserves in 2060, and sources of coal in 2008.
Although this depends on the country, the energy of the wind remains at the bottom amount in terms of price. For example, researchers estimate that it only costs 1 to 2 cents per kWh after taxes and applicable credits and benefits in the United States. Moreover, wind farms usually sign long-term contracts with a fixed price, so the cost of energy isn’t prone to market fluctuations such as fossil fuels or coal. Finally, the fuel itself is free and the turbines are constantly improved to require fewer moving parts. This lowers the cost of engineering and maintenance.
Wind turbines are incredibly tall (to the point of being an eyesore) and the widest part, the circumference of turbine blades in motion, is high above ground or sea level. Because they’re usually placed offshore or onshore but in rural parts, the ground space remains free for small houses, stables, farming fields, or pastures. Now you know why them being emission and pollutant-free is crucial. For turbines whose foundation is submerged in water, boats can still pass below unobstructed.
Boosts economy and introduces jobs
We established that wind farms are both weather and location-dependent. Therefore, some countries have better predispositions for generating electricity. This oftentimes happens in those that are underdeveloped, with a lot of empty, flat ground or massive underutilized bodies of water. This invites investments from countries with far more resources, but far lower potential or efficiency at harnessing the power of the wind. Besides creating new job openings in engineering, construction, and maintenance, wind farm owners can sell excess electricity to the grid.
Unsurprisingly, wind turbines can size down instead of scaling up. Smaller wind turbines are already in use for power generation on off-grid vehicles such as boats, camper trailers, or caravans. Some cities use them for low-power sources such as warning signs in traffic. Finally, remote residences may use them as an alternative to solar energy.
Disadvantages of wind energy
Every coin has two sides. Let’s explore the negative effects of wind energy.
Unreliable source of energy
Having inconsistent energy production is not only one of the key cons of wind energy – solar energy shares the same drawback. While technological advancements improve their efficiency, wind turbines are still unpredictable and at the mercy of the weather, current season, and location.
Greenhouse gas emissions
While the production of wind energy is emission-free, reaching that stage isn’t. Turbines, electric wires, steel cables, and foundations still use parts or objects that are mainly manufactured in factories dependant on coal or fossil fuels. Additionally, the transportation technology, including vehicles and infrastructure, needed to bring necessary tools and workforce to the location, unquestionably adds to the carbon footprint.
Limited land surface
While compact once placed, wind turbines must be at a certain distance from each other. They must also be rotated and grouped in a way that generates the highest amount of electricity. This further complicates placement and disqualifies some types of land. The problem isn’t as bad as with solar farms. However, wind farms still occupy a lot of space compared to nuclear power plants.
Requires transmission lines
Transferring energy without losses is still impossible. Yet, we must build a transmission grid between producers (wind farms) and expenders (anything that consumes energy) that minimizes cost. This is no easy feat – wind farms are in remote locations that can be hundreds of miles from expenders. Researchers predict urbanization may solve this problem to a degree. We can collectively move to megacities, build massive wind farms on the outskirts, and connect them using highly optimized transmission lines.
Wind turbines can’t have any physical obstructions if they are to produce energy at maximum capacity. So, if the weather conditions are optimal but the land is occupied by a heavy forest, it’s up to the country or landowner to decide which is more important. That’s when human greed enters the picture. Consequently, hundreds or even thousands of trees get chopped down.
Danger to wildlife
You could’ve seen this coming. The disappearance of forests means numerous animals and plants lose their natural habitat. Animals can migrate, sure, but plant species, some of them rare, oftentimes die off. The moving part is also a problem, at least for the aerial creatures. Countless birds, bats, and insects die when they collide with wind turbine blades.