Fossil fuels may be convenient, cheap, and easier to store. However, relying on them for a long period of time has proven to be unhealthy for people and for the environment. Additionally, being dependent on their import often comes with significant economic and geopolitical consequences. No single source of energy is currently without challenges, but engineering companies around the world are working on creative solutions to overcome them.
Before we explore the pros and cons of wind power in greater depth, let’s start with the basics of how wind energy is harnessed.
How Is Wind Energy Produced?
Wind turbines use propeller-like blades to catch the wind’s energy. These blades may run vertically or horizontally; either way, as the wind blows, the blades turn around a rotor. That rotor is connected to a main shaft, which ultimately spins a generator —- transforming kinetic energy from the wind into electricity. The characteristic hum that wind turbines make is actually the sound of the generator working.
Not all wind turbines use the same design, although most of them use three blades that are oriented vertically, like a fan.
Wind Energy Examples
Wind energy has been in use as early as 5,000 BC, but in addition to generating clean energy, other common uses for wind energy include milling grain and enabling some recreational sports, like kiteboarding and windsurfing.
6 Advantages of Wind Power
Wind power has a few advantages over many other forms of energy, which is why wind electricity generation has increased significantly throughout the U.S. over the past 30 years. So before we explore the challenges wind energy poses, let’s start with what’s working in its favor.
1. Wind Is Renewable and Plentiful
Wind energy is one of the largest sources of clean, renewable energy in the United States. It can’t be used up, nor do we have to deplete our natural resources to capture it.
2. Wind Power Plants Emit Far Less Pollution
It’s a slight overstatement to say that wind power is 100% clean. However, wind turbines have some of the lowest global warming potential per unit of electricity generated.
3. Water Isn’t Required
Unlike thermal or hydroelectric power plants, wind turbines don’t require a significant amount of water to generate power. They aren’t affected by periods of drought.
4. Wind Is Everywhere
A wind turbine can be placed on land or in the ocean, within a city, or in a remote location.
5. Turbines Are Space-Efficient
It’s a common misconception that wind energy requires a lot of land, and to be fair, many wind farms do have a large footprint. But most of that footprint is actually open space, which can also be farmed or put to other use.
Engineering companies like ours can help identify opportunities for wind or solar power on surplus property or brownfields.
6. Operating Costs Are Low
Wind is free, and once turbines are installed, they don’t require much ongoing maintenance.
4 Disadvantages of Wind Power
Despite all of the above advantages, wind power does have a few remaining challenges.
1. Wind Turbines Aren’t Cheap
Wind turbines can reduce energy costs over time, but upfront costs are increasing. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that technological boosts can improve their performance, so the long-term financial benefits of wind power still outweigh the costs. Additionally, not all wind turbines are the same, and their location will significantly influence their output.
It’s difficult to generate specific numbers around ROI, but the break-even point of a wind turbine is typically around 15 years. You should get 25 years out of one turbine, so for its remaining 10 years of life, it will continue to produce electricity for free, minus any maintenance costs. An experienced power engineering company can also help you maximize the financial benefits of wind power over time.
2. Wind Is Unpredictable and Inconsistent
Even when the wind is blowing, it’s not always blowing at the same speed. Many on-shore wind farms use batteries to store surplus wind power, which can help preserve output during periods of low wind or higher demand. Power engineers around the world are currently proposing innovative solutions to improve the efficiency and cost of energy storage.
3. Some People Don’t Like Wind Turbines
While most power plants aren’t exactly known for their beauty, some people find wind turbines to be an additional eyesore, and others don’t like to hear them in action. However, wind turbines are typically located over 300 meters away from the nearest home, where their noise level will be less than that of an average air conditioner and a bit more than your average refrigerator.
It’s helpful to choose a location where their operation won’t disturb residents, although newer technology can also make them even quieter.
4. Wind Turbines Impact Wildlife
Many important pollinators are adversely affected by wind turbines, including bats and birds. While the scientific community currently disagrees on the extent to which wind turbines adversely affect insects like honeybees, recent data indicates wind turbines also affect insect populations and biodiversity.
It’s perhaps too easy for many power companies and communities to dismiss this and other disadvantages because of how many ongoing energy problems wind power solves. But sustainability is a key focus at Verdantas, and we specialize in strategies and designs for sustainable energy transition.
How Wind Energy Consultants and Power Engineers Are Improving Wind Power
Wind power will perhaps never be perfect, but there are ways it could be made even better for people and for the planet. As we mentioned earlier, engineers are already working on improving wind turbines to be more efficient, less noisy, and capable of generating more ROI over the long term. Scientists are also working on reducing the impact turbines have on wildlife. Ultrasonic Acoustic Deterrents (UADs), for example, are reasonably effective at keeping bats away from turbines.
If your next project includes renewable energy, or you’re hoping to improve the output or efficiency of your facilities, we can help. Not too long ago, we partnered with RWE Renewables to assist them with their first onshore wind project in Ohio — the Scioto Ridge Wind Farm, which can supply over 60,000 households with renewable energy. In addition to providing ecological specialist services, we supplied civil engineering design, land surveying, permitting assistance, and more.
Click the link below to learn more about our role on this complex project!
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