Wind Power as an Alternative Energy
The production of energy, as well as it use, is one of the human activities that have great impact to the environment. Environmental concerns have pushed nations to try and promote energy that has less impact to the environmental. Although there is no source of energy that does not have an impact to the environment, wind power is considered to be the least harmful compared to the conventional sources of energy (Jaber, 2013). While the conventional energy is a great contributor to the international problem of global warming, some of the environmental impacts associated with wind power are often local as wind turbines killing birds. It is such environmental friendliness that have seen wind power gain global acceptance as an alternative source of energy. However, in spite of its environmental friendliness and many more compelling advantages of the harnessing of wind to produce energy continue to lag behind due to some inhibiting challenges.
Advantages of Wind Power
The advantages of wind power can be seen either from environmental, economical or social perspective.
Wind power has the potential to significantly reduce global climate change, air pollution as well as water pollution compared to conventional sources of electricity. Fossil fuel and nuclear power release a lot of carbon dioxide to the environment. In US, for instance, electricity generation is the largest source of air pollution today (AWEA, 2007). Power plants are responsible of close to 30 percent of green gas emission while coal plants emit dioxin and mercury in the air (US Department of Energy, 2009). In addition, fossil fuels are responsible for 67 percent of sulphur dioxide (SO2) and 23 percent of Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) (AWEA, 2007) SO2 and NOx causes acid rain and smog. This is not to forget the noise that comes from nuclear and coal plants. According to the US Department of Energy, supplying 20 percent of U.S. electricity from wind could “reduce annual electric sector carbon dioxide (CO2) emission by 825 million metric tons by 2030” (2008, p32). Air pollution and emission of greenhouse gas does not only come from extraction, but also from transportation of fuels.
Since wind power is generated by the wind, it is a clean power source. Unlike fossil fuel or nuclear plants, wind turbines do not emit greenhouse gasses. Such an advantage makes wind power the best alternative energy to address climate change. As global energy needs increases, over reliance on conventional sources would only worsen the current situation of global climate change. This is one of the reasons why the U.S. department of energy aims at increasing wind energy contribution to U.S. electricity supply by 20 percent by 2030 (U.S. Department of Energy, 2008).
Wind power does not waste water. More water is required to generate conventional electricity than is required for irrigation. Nuclear and coal plants require water for cooling. Although much of the water is recycled, some of it is lost through evaporation (US Department of Energy, 2008). Considering that water is a scarce resource, this is a reasonable disadvantage for traditional electricity generation. Beside the water wastages in plants, conventional energy has a role in acid rain that acidifies water bodies such as streambeds and lakes. In addition, some of the toxic solid waste from these plants may be channeled to water bodies. Wind power development is therefore one way of conserving water.
Wind power is a renewable source of energy. As long as the wind blows, wind power can be generated. This becomes a compelling advantage considering that conventional energy is increasingly being depleted. Wind is a form of solar energy that cannot be used up. Developing wind power, therefore, makes economic sense.
Overreliance on conventional energy is to blame for the high cost of fuel. Wind power as an alternative source of energy has the potential to check the global fuel prices. The price of nuclear power and fossil fuel is heavily influenced by mining and transportation cost. As the cost of extracting fossil becomes increasingly expensive, so do the price. In contrast, wind is readily available and free source of power. Unlike the conventional energy where fuel has to be transported to an electricity generating plant, wind power is generated at the source. In addition, the cost of wind power production has significantly reduced owing to the improved wind technology, efficiency and reliability. As the US Department of Energy (2004) has noted, wind energy technology has moved from the small multi-bladed machines that pumped water and powered direct current appliances in the 1930s and 1940s to become quiet, sleek multi-megawatt power plants that power thousands of homes today. According to the department, although the overhead capital for wind power generation is still high, improvement in technology has lowered the cost of production with over 80 percent over the past three decades. Such benefits are obviously transferred to the consumer.
Wind power can be developed both in developed and developing economies. It is also common in rural areas. The presence of a power generating infrastructure spurs up economic growth in the areas. Wind energy companies are also source of employment to many.
Not all countries have fossils deposit. Dependence on fuel imports from other country can make a country vulnerable to manipulation. Oil producing countries, can for instance, withhold their product to impose their agenda in international politics. A country can be free from such manipulation by harnessing the abundant wind to become energy self-reliant.
The effect of a nuclear plant disaster can be very devastating. The recent Fukushima’s radioactive leak in Japan is clear example of the threat that nuclear plants pose to a nation. Japan has even stated that it is considering nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear plant was destroyed by the 2013 earthquake. In countries that are not prone to earthquakes, nuclear power plants are potential target for terrorists. Such risks are less likely in wind power production.
The other advantage of wind power leads to proper utilization of land. Although wind farms may cover an expansive area, wind turbines only use a small fraction of the land. The land under wind power production can as well be used for activities like agriculture. Wind turbines do not interfere with people, crops or even livestock.
Unlike traditional electricity generation, generating electricity using wind can be localized. Fuels can be imported while nuclear power plants are stationed away from locals. Wind turbines can be locally owned for local electricity generation. This creates a social as well as an economic advantage for local people since they can save their dollars for other purposes.
Disadvantages of Wind Power
Intermittent power supply
The main undoing of wind power is its intermittent supply. Wind power is only reliable when the wind blows. In most regions, the flow of wind is seasonal. There are some seasons that are calm or the wind flowing too weak to generate electricity. This makes wind only an alternative source of energy. If wind power was to be connected to the electrical grid, there are days or seasons that consumer would go without electricity. This disadvantage is further strengthened by the fact that wind energy cannot be store, unless with the use of batteries (Jaber, 2013).
Although the cost of wind power generation has fallen drastically with the improvement of wind energy technology and efficiency, the cost of generating power depends with the strength of the wind. In regions that the wind is not strong enough, the cost of wind power is still prohibitive. The overhead cost required to set up wind power stations is still high. The materials involved in production of wind turbines are costly. At least 9 metric tons of fiberglasses are required per megawatt of wind turbine capacity (U.S. Department of Energy, 2009).
The most viable wind power plants are often located in remote areas. The reality is that energy is far much needed in urban or developed areas where industries are located. Producing energy in remote areas would incur further cost of transmitting it is to where is needed most. Further still, although wind has the potential to supply the required energy, large stations would be required to fill the existing energy gap. The largest known wind turbine today has only the capacity to supply energy to about 500 homes (Alnaser and Alnaser, 2009). Thousands of turbines would be required to sufficiently supply power to average cities. At that rate, it is hard for installation of wind tower to keep up with the growing energy needs.
Although wind power is considered the most environmental friendly, there is no source of energy without some environmental impact. In this, wind energy is only separated from traditional sources by the degree of impact each has on environmental. Wind power causes both ecological and wildlife concerns.
Wind turbines kill birds and bats. Although the number of birds and bats killed by the turbine is significantly small, it is still a cause of concern, especially for animal rights activists. Each turbine poses a risk to birds, but the risk can be reduced with proper siting (AWEA, 2007).
The noise impact of wind power plants is controversial. Wind turbines generate some noise when active, but the noise generated is considered to be generally very low to cause alarm (Jaber 2013). The noise generated from turbines has been equated to any other noise generated by other machines such as refrigerators or cars. Though it is still regarded as an impact, Jaber (2013, p.4) concludes that it is a “small- scale problem in absolute terms”. As Jaber also notes, “complaints about noise from wind projects are rare and can usually be satisfactorily resolved”.
The other disadvantage concerning aesthetics can still be considered an advantage to some people. Some people may view establishment of wind power plants in their areas as intrusion of industries in their serene environment, but other may still view the development in a positive manner. To those opposed to wind power projects, wind towers are unpleasant to look and only serve to disfigure the beautiful natural sights of country side. Other may welcome the structures cognizant of the benefits that come with development such as increased employment opportunities. This disadvantage is therefore a matter of individual preferences and interests.
At the beginning of the construction of a wind power project, there will be obviously the clearing of some vegetation in the chosen area or any other impact on individual organisms. However, as it was seen in the advantages of wind power compared to tradition electricity generation, the land used for power turbines can be utilized for other purposes, commonly agriculture.
The compelling advantage for wind power as an alternative source of energy is its friendliness to the environment. As the wind power technology advances, wind power will be a likely alternative for energy for the future. However, the options for establishing wind power plants will only come after a careful balancing of both the advantages and disadvantages.
Alnaser, W.E & Alnaser, N.E. (2009). Solar and Wind Energy in GCC Countries and some Related Projects. Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Vol. 1: 1-28
AWEA (American Wind Energy Association) (2007). Wind Power Capacity in U.S. Increased 27% in 2006 and is expected to grow an Additional 26% in 2007. Washington, DC: AWEA.
Jaber, S. (2013). Environmental Impact of Wind Energy. Journal of Clean Energy Technologies Vol. 1(3): 1-4
U.S. Department of Energy (2004). Wind Power Today & Tomorrow. Washington DC,: National Technical Information Service
U.S. Department of Energy (2008). Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Washington DC, : National Technical Information Service