The Pros and Cons for Wind Power - Updated for 2022
So what are the pros and cons for wind power?
Wind power has been around us for a long time. Our planet’s abundant and free winds are useful for various purposes like grinding grain, sailing ships, pumping water, and, most importantly, generating electricity. It hasn’t been long since humans used this power to generate electricity.
Wind power is now an important part of electricity generation as it powers around 8.4% of the U.S.A.’s electric grid and 6% of the grid globally, with a potential of having more capacity.
Wind power provides us with so many advantages. It’s a type of straightforward renewable power source, which we can run without a high level of maintenance, and there’s also almost no scope for air and water pollution.
Also, on a planet where climate change has begun to take the attention of all, wind turbines generate electricity without emitting greenhouse gas. These facts are some of the major reasons wind power has become so popular.
However, we also face some challenges while generating this clean energy. There are a few disadvantages. Two of the major disadvantages are the inherent variability of wind and the environmental impacts.
Wind power generation actually mitigates these impacts, but there’s still no scope to downplay or ignore these facts. Economically, the upfront cost of wind energy isn’t low at all, but the scenario is similar for other forms of energy also.
As an example, fossil fuel plants need significantly more upkeep, so the operational costs increase a lot.
But What is Wind Power?
What is Wind Power?
The wind is a free, natural, and abundant resource of the earth, and wind power is any system capturing wind energy and transforming it to electricity or mechanical energy.
Wind power generation can be possible from a few wind turbines to hundreds of windmills. Wind power plants can differ a lot in size. For wind farms, the ideal location is mountain passes as mountain-blocked wind makes its way through.
Higher altitudes are also suitable for wind energy because winds blow fast there, and it’s effective for wind farms.
Windmills and Turbines
There are many events that trigger wind blowing. Earth’s rotation, the earth getting heat from the sun, the surface’s irregularities, etc., are responsible for wind.
With the wind power, the blade-shaped propellers rotate around the rotor and spin the windmills’ engine. Thus, electricity generation takes place.
Two types of wind turbines work in wind farms. One is the horizontal axis turbine, and the other is the vertical axis turbine. It’s very common to use horizontal axis propellers in wind farms.
However, vertical axis turbines perform more effectively in places where it’s not possible to calculate the wind’s direction, and the wind’s direction is always changing.
The installation of horizontal axis turbines must be with the direction of the wind. Vertical axis turbines function with all types of wind; these turbines are omnidirectional.
THE PROS OF WIND POWER
A big advantage of wind energy is that it produces electricity without air and water pollution. Also, unlike many other power generation systems, wind power generation doesn’t produce greenhouse gases.
Apart from these benefits, there are unique economic and environmental benefits also.
After installation, wind turbines have a low running cost. Also, there’s no source cost. The wind is free and abundant, so there’s no need to think about source costs.
These cost savings in wind power generation make it cheaper than almost all forms of power generation (such as coal-burning plants) in the world.
A financial study in 2016 found that unsubsidised wind energy projects have costs in the range of $32 to $62 per megawatt-hour.
In coal-burning plants, costs are in the range of $57 to $148 per megawatt-hour. As per predictions, wind power costs will come down because there are expectations for the increase of wind strength due to climate change.
As a result, energy generated from wind should increase a lot in the future.
No Effect on Climate Change
There are power generation costs for constructing and transporting wind turbines.
However, research on wind turbines’ life cycle found that the carbon footprint of the wind turbines is returned in carbon dioxide savings in only half a year of operation.
Also, a study in 2019 found that the equivalent of carbon dioxide in 43 million cars was avoided by producing electricity from wind.
There’s no lack of wind, and it will always stay like this. So, the wind is a sustainable and renewable source of energy.
Unlike energy sources, there’s no need to dig wind energy from the ground or transport it by truck or train.
Extra activities like digging, transportation, etc., need additional energy and increase the expenditures of fuel-burning plants.
However, the latest wind turbines have become more efficient in power generation.
Not Dependent on a Water Source
For the operation of a wind turbine, there’s no need for water. Even for cooling machines and other purposes, water isn’t necessary for wind turbines.
So, wind turbines don’t need a location near waterways or a connection to water sources.
No Harmful Emission
After placing, a windmill or wind turbine doesn’t generate any effluent or emission.
There’s no need to scrub smoke-stacks and process, cart away, bury or dump toxic materials.
Beneficial to Rural Communities
Installations of wind energy generation plants are also beneficial to rural economies as most windmills are in less populated regions.
As an example, in Minnesota, Mower county generated tax revenue of over $2.3 million for wind power in 2018.
No Air Pollution and Health Danger
Wind energy is very environment friendly. Coal-fired power plants are harmful to the environment and people’s health, and health issues result in higher medical costs.
These costs aren’t included in the costs of coal-fired electricity, but people have to bear these costs. However, wind energy doesn’t have such issues.
So, whether it’s a human health effect or economic effect, or both, it’s a cost-saving when people go for wind energy.
Fossil fuels generally require a centralised plant to generate electricity efficiently. However, wind power is space and size flexible.
Oil-burning household generators mainly run for emergency outages, and they aren’t efficient and pollute local air.
Various Uses According to Turbine Size
According to turbine sizes, it’s possible to use wind turbines for various purposes. Small wind turbines can power ranches, homes, farms, buildings, etc.
However, large wind generators are useful for local power generation for community and industrial needs.
No Dependency on Subsidies
Almost all larger power generation systems like coal plants, wind farms, etc., get subsidies from the government.
However, fossil fuel based power generation companies may get a higher amount of grants, tax breaks, etc., compared to renewable forms, and it depends on the factors taken into consideration.
There’s a question of whether the artificially low expenditures of mining on lands count toward subsidies or not. Financial and environmental analysts don’t agree on this matter.
Easy to Suit the Energy Needs and Location
Thinking of wind energy may elicit pictures of wind farms with many turbines.
Also, there are medium and small-sized turbines functioning solo, in pairs, in threes, etc., providing distributed energy to people needing it.
In the U.S.A., the Department of Energy found that there are over 85,000 smaller turbines, bringing in the power of 1145 megawatts.
Wind Creates Jobs
In the U.S.A., the wind energy sector employs over 100,000 workers. One of the quickest growing American job posts is wind turbine technician.
According to a report of the Wind Vision Report, in the wind energy sector, there’s a potential of supporting over 600,000 jobs in installation, manufacturing, maintenance, supporting services, etc., by 2050.
THE CONS OF WIND POWER
Wind energy also has some major challenges and disadvantages. A big disadvantage is that there’s an ecological impact on bats and birds due to wind energy generation.
Also, wind turbines generate noise, which is a problem maintaining the quality of life at the location of the turbines.
High Noise Level
Wind turbines are usually noisy, creating noise in the range of 40 to 60 decibels, which is comparable to a medium-sized window air conditioner unit.
This noise can obviously irritate people living near even small turbines, and there can also be impacts on health due to this noise.
Lack of Predictability and Reliability
Wind turbines lack reliability. Though wind turbines may generate power 90% of the working time, they may not work at full capacity.
The average capacity is 35%. Turbines also lack predictability. No or low wind will hamper a wind turbine from functioning, and very strong winds will make the turbine struggle to protect itself.
During that time, there will be a need for stored wind power from batteries or other power sources to maintain regular electricity flow.
Visually Disturbing to Some People
Wind turbines are usually located in less populated areas. Rural and less populated locations usually have great scenic beauty.
Wind turbines at these locations may be disturbing to many aesthetic minds, especially nature lovers. Nature lovers may find wind turbines ugly at locations with great scenic beauty.
Harmful to Wildlife
The noise from wind turbines also affects wildlife, especially bats and birds. Wind turbines cause a high number of bird deaths.
A popular study on bird deaths at wind energy facilities reported that in the U.S.A., wind turbines kill 140,000 to 328,000 birds per year.
Other animals using vocalisations for communication also get affected. There have been attempts to reduce these effects.
Building wind farms away from locations with large populations of animals and birds has been an attempt to reduce negative effects on animals and birds.
Another technique is using a radar so that turbine operators can stop the turbine when the radar detects birds.
Also, blade less turbines can be another solution. However, there hasn’t been enough information considering how effective these steps have been to save birds and animals.
Shadow flicker is a phenomenon produced by a wind turbine’s spinning blades paired with the sun placed low on the horizon.
It casts a moving shadow looking like a flicker due to the moving blade. People living near the turbine may find it disturbing and disorienting, but it happens in time-limited and specific circumstances.
It’s possible to calculate and mitigate the effects of shadow flicker. Small turbines don’t have issues with shadow flicker as these turbines are short, so it’s mainly a concern with large turbines.
High Upfront Cost
If we imagine, the massive structures often have heights of hundreds of metres, and they need substantial upfront investment.
In rural areas, placing wind turbines needs further investment to transfer power to populated areas like cities and towns through underground lines.
A major portion of the cost is the building stage and initial installation, but after that, there will be an endless supply of wind power as long as the location has sufficient wind.
Hampering Local Ecosystems
Like any large-scale industrial development, a wind farm will have some impact on local ecosystems.
Animals can enter a major portion of the land owned by a wind energy plant.
In the area of a wind farm, there can be maintenance roads, power lines, and other infrastructure, which can harm wildlife in that area.
Also, there can be unexpected consequences because of the ecological effects due to wind farms.
As an example, in India, a research work found that there were many lizards and fewer predatory birds near wind energy plants, which hampered the balance of prey and predatory in those locations of these plants.
Whether people like wind power or not, the power generation industry is in need of a change for the future.
As people keep burning through the supply of nuclear fuels and fossils, an alternative energy is necessary.
Green and renewable energy sources can meet our demands. Much like solar, the wind should also be a part of this equation.
Wind energy has both pros and cons, but if we consider all factors, wind energy is stronger in its positive sides. Without a doubt, wind energy can be a major portion of the total generation energy generated in the future.
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I’m Martin Hurley - the friendliest and most helpful person in the wind generator field! (That’s me on an ‘early’ electric bike, way back in 2010). I write posts and reviews about wind power, green energy, wind turbine kits, wind energy tools, tech and more. Depending where you live, one day I’m sure there’ll be wind generators built into our homes, our vehicles and on every street corner - and they’ll be fantastically efficient!