Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind Energy

The advantages and disadvantages of wind energy leave many divided. In our quest to reduce carbon emissions, we are now generating more and more electricity from an increasing number of renewable energy sources. The second-largest type of renewable energy by capacity is wind energy. (after hydropower)

The wind is a never-ending source and one that we increasingly rely on. In the same way as solar power, there is a limitless supply of electricity from wind. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages of wind energy. The disadvantages can be particularly apparent when the wind is not blowing. However, throughout the history of wind energy, it’s continued to develop. Engineers look to improve efficiency and output consistently7Wind Energy Explained: Theory, Design and Application. By James F. Manwell, Jon G. McGowan, Anthony L. Rogers

Generating electricity from the wind is almost carbon-free. If we can convert the wind to electricity, store it and use it, we can reduce the need to use other polluting energy sources. Making the switch is where we might face a problem. 

To generate clean electricity on a wide scale is a challenge but one we have to face. Many governments around the world are now making it their goal to reduce greenhouse gases. As targets are put in place to become carbon neutral, we must turn to cleaner energy sources such as wind. 

There is no other way to look at it. Wind energy is a crucial source for our renewable energy future. It can supply enough energy for us to thrive. With this in mind, we should identify the advantage and disadvantages of wind energy.

Advantages of Wind Energy

It is a Green Energy Source

Using the wind as a source of energy will not pollute the environment. In comparison to fossil fuels, wind power is cleaner and readily available. We cannot ignore the manufacturing, installation and transportation of wind turbines. However, once installed, there are no emissions. This makes it extremely green and clean. 

It Has Real Potential

Potentially wind power could generate all of our electricity needs. In fact, teams of scientists have found that global generating potential is more than 400 Terawatts. It is possible to harness the wind anywhere it blows with the correct technology. 

When you consider the potential of onshore wind farms and offshore wind farms8M. Dolores Esteban, J. Javier Diez, Jose S. López, Vicente Negro, Why offshore wind energy?, Renewable Energy, Volume 36, Issue 2, 2011, Pages 444-450, ISSN 0960-1481, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2010.07.009. , wind energy looks set to grow on a massive scale. This raises the prominence of the debate on the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy even further.

It is Renewable

The entire push to switch to wind energy is because it is a renewable source of energy. Wind occurs naturally and so, we cannot use up the resources. Therefore, it behaves differently from that of fossil fuels. The wind actually originates from the sun, so as long as the sun shines, we will always have wind. According to scientists, the sun is likely to burn for another 5 billion years. The future of fossil fuels is very different in contrast. 

They Use Space Efficiently

The largest wind turbines have the ability to generate enough electricity to power around 1500 homes1Observation-based solar and wind power capacity factors and power densities. Lee M Miller and David W Keith 2018 Environ. Res. Lett. 13 104008 . While many see wind turbines as a blot on the landscape, they do not render the land around them unusable. Due to their size, we cannot place wind turbines too close together. Therefore, farms can install wind turbines instead of using solar panels to generate solar energy4Andrew Kusiak, Zhe Song, Design of wind farm layout for maximum wind energy capture, Renewable Energy, Volume 35, Issue 3, 2010, Pages 685-694, ISSN 0960-1481, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2009.08.019. . And cattle, for example, can still graze in their footprint.

It is a Growing Technology

We now realise just how important wind energy is. Despite this wind only accounts for 4.8% of total worldwide energy production. However, the capacity is growing and with this comes lower production costs. As a result, a reduction in CO2 emissions versus the same capacity generated using fossil fuels follows.

Wind energy is not a new source of energy. However, in contrast to hydropower, for example, it is still young. There is still plenty of room for wind technology to grow and evolve2L. Mangialardi, G. Mantriota, The advantages of using continuously variable transmissions in wind power systems, Renewable Energy, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1992, Pages 201-209, ISSN 0960-1481, https://doi.org/10.1016/0960-1481(92)90033-Y . As technology improves, wind energy will become more efficient and cheaper to produce5Thomas Ackermann, Lennart Söder, Wind energy technology and current status: a review, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 4, Issue 4, 2000, Pages 315-374, ISSN 1364-0321, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1364-0321(00)00004-6.

To add to this, once we find a way to store this energy reliably and on a large scale, we can better manage any variations in production. Improving renewable energy battery storage supports this motivation. 

As a result, today science works hard to improve battery storage to keep up with demand. Storage will further allow us to increase the adoption of wind energy and increase its use in place of traditional energy sources. 

Decrease in Prices

Since the 1980s, the cost of wind power has dropped by 80%. This is down to a number of reasons. The first is the way in which advancements have been made in production. The manufacturing and development process is now more efficient. This has driven prices down. Along with this, we are seeing an increase in demand. Manufacturing larger volumes results in keener prices at the point of installation.

As governments, utility companies and businesses are looking to reduce greenhouse gases, they now chose more wind.  Uptake driven by awareness, policy and legislation has helped to further reduce prices. The result is wind energy is forecast to become cheaper into the future9María Isabel Blanco, The economics of wind energy, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 13, Issues 6–7, 2009, Pages 1372-1382, ISSN 1364-0321, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2008.09.004. .

Reduction in Operational Costs

The main cost that we associate with wind energy is the cost of manufacturing and installing. Once turbines have been put in place, the operational costs are lower. Yes, they require maintenance but the technology behind them is fairly simple. Therefore, unlike other forms of energy sources, they do not require constant monitoring or manpower to continue to operate. 

Domestic Potential

Installing wind small wind turbines at home can provide e3nergy indepedence from the grid. We’re likely to see a lot more at home energy generation as efficiency, storage and costs improve. Photo Credit: David Blaikie on Flickr. CC BY 2.0

We all see large turbines that sit on the top of mountains where they harness the power of the wind. However, the great thing about wind energy is that homeowners have the potential to generate their own electricity.

While most people rely on energy that power plants generate, in the right circumstances, people can generate their own wind power. Of course, at this moment in time, it is probably not a 100% solution to energy needs at home. At times of low wind, power typically still needs to be drawn from the grid,  but the potential is there. 

What’s more, some countries allow people to feed back energy into the grid. Therefore, they can also receive credit for doing so, helping to reduce their energy bills. It also means that they reduce the energy that we create with fossil fuels, ultimately reducing greenhouse gases.

The Disadvantages of Wind Energy

It is Inconsistent

If we are going to make the switch to renewable energy sources then they need to be reliable. As we are all aware, there are days when the wind blows more than others. This is where wind energy can struggle to compete. When the wind blows, wind turbines are great at generating a lot of energy. However, when there is no wind and the turbines are not turning, there is no energy being made. Despite this, as battery storage technology improves, so too will the consistency of power from wind energy alone3S. Teleke, M. E. Baran, A. Q. Huang, S. Bhattacharya and L. Anderson, "Control Strategies for Battery Energy Storage for Wind Farm Dispatching," in IEEE Transactions on .

It Can Prove Costly

One of the disadvantages of wind energy is that it can cost a lot of money. Whether it is large wind farms or small scale residential turbines, they all cost money. Financial incentives are often a requirement when installing wind farms. This allows them to compete with fossil fuels. 

Despite this, improving technology and increasing popularity is helping to reduce costs. 

Problems for Wildlife

This is a problem for many as the installation of wind turbines can cause problems for wildlife. So, the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy can prove a subject of debate. On the one hand, it can help to reduce carbon emissions. However, on the other hand, wind farms can have a real impact on wildlife and nature6Gordon G. Brittan Jr (2001) Wind, energy, landscape: Reconciling nature and technology, Philosophy & Geography, 4:2, 169-184, DOI: 10.1080/10903770124626 . The installation of windfarms can disturb the natural habitat of animals. In addition to this, the number of birds being killed by the turbines is on the rise. 

Noise Can Be a Problem

For those us who can see wind turbines in the distance, we have no idea just how much noise they produce. People who live near them can suffer from noise problems. Moving turbines offshore can prove a better option for noise. Needless to say, new models will become quieter as technology advances.

Appearance

The appearance of wind farms often leaves people divided in opinion. Some like them, others don’t. There is no doubt that wind farms and wind turbines are an unnatural addition to the landscape. Arguably, they are not particularly great looking and they can detract from the beauty around them. If they are installed in rural areas away from people or offshore, then we can reduce the visual impact.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind Energy Are Clear

As we go in search of new sources of energy, we have to consider all options. The advantages and disadvantages of wind energy are clear but with technology improving, it seems as though wind energy is a likely contender. 

The future is exciting, even with the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy leaving it open to some debate. The inevitable improvements and developments will mitigate some of the concerns. There is no doubt that we have to replace fossil fuels. We have been causing damage to the environment for too long. Now is the time to make a change and wind will continue to play a key role.

Old Wind Mills at SunSet
Windmills have been around 1000s of years. Whereas the modern electricity-generating versions may not be as majestic as the advantages outweigh the disadvantages they are likely to be a more and more common sight. Photo Credit: Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

Brian Holdsworth

Further Reading:

Sources & References:

#Description
1Observation-based solar and wind power capacity factors and power densities. Lee M Miller and David W Keith 2018 Environ. Res. Lett. 13 104008
2L. Mangialardi, G. Mantriota, The advantages of using continuously variable transmissions in wind power systems, Renewable Energy, Volume 2, Issue 3, 1992, Pages 201-209, ISSN 0960-1481, https://doi.org/10.1016/0960-1481(92)90033-Y
3S. Teleke, M. E. Baran, A. Q. Huang, S. Bhattacharya and L. Anderson, "Control Strategies for Battery Energy Storage for Wind Farm Dispatching," in IEEE Transactions on Energy Conversion, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 725-732, Sept. 2009. doi: 10.1109/TEC.2009.2016000
4Andrew Kusiak, Zhe Song, Design of wind farm layout for maximum wind energy capture, Renewable Energy, Volume 35, Issue 3, 2010, Pages 685-694, ISSN 0960-1481, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2009.08.019.
5Thomas Ackermann, Lennart Söder, Wind energy technology and current status: a review, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 4, Issue 4, 2000, Pages 315-374, ISSN 1364-0321, https://doi.org/10.1016/S1364-0321(00)00004-6.
6Gordon G. Brittan Jr (2001) Wind, energy, landscape: Reconciling nature and technology, Philosophy & Geography, 4:2, 169-184, DOI: 10.1080/10903770124626
7Wind Energy Explained: Theory, Design and Application. By James F. Manwell, Jon G. McGowan, Anthony L. Rogers
8M. Dolores Esteban, J. Javier Diez, Jose S. López, Vicente Negro, Why offshore wind energy?, Renewable Energy, Volume 36, Issue 2, 2011, Pages 444-450, ISSN 0960-1481, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.renene.2010.07.009.
9María Isabel Blanco, The economics of wind energy, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 13, Issues 6–7, 2009, Pages 1372-1382, ISSN 1364-0321, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rser.2008.09.004.

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