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Wind Energy Pros and Cons: How Does Wind Energy Benefit Us?
Inspire Clean Energy
16 min read
category: Clean Energy 101
What are the pros and cons of wind energy?
We love wind energy because it’s so good for the planet, but we know not everyone is so well informed. So, let’s explore some of these frequently asked questions about wind energy.
How is wind energy used today?
Wind energy is harnessed through the use of wind farms. But what is a wind farm exactly? And how does wind energy work? Wind farms convert the wind’s naturally existing kinetic energy to electrical energy, using the aerodynamic force from the rotor blades. That, in turn, is what we use to power everything in our lives that requires electricity.
Solar and wind energy for homes are two of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly sources of energy, and they are intrinsically linked. Interestingly, wind energy actually wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for solar energy. Wind exists due to the sun unevenly heating the surface of the Earth. As hot air rises, cooler air moves in to fill the void. So it makes sense that, as long as the sun continues to shine, the wind will continue to blow.
Inspire Clean Energy is a renewable energy company, and we’re passionate about using wind energy because it’s everywhere, and new wind farms are being built all the time. Inspire members help to displace more nonrenewable energy sources with clean energy from wind farms and other sources of 100% clean and renewable energy – learn how to switch to renewable energy today.
What are some of the pros of wind energy?
So, what are wind energy pros and cons? Let’s start with the pros. Not only is wind energy better for the environment, but it’s also safer, cheaper, and saves billions of gallons of water every single year. Here’s why we love the benefits of wind energy1:
- Wind energy saves water: Unlike thermal power plants, wind turbines do not require any water to produce electricity or cool the power generating equipment. Older power plants, such as natural gas, coal and nuclear energy, use a significantly large amount of water to cool their plants. If this is done continually, it may result in a future water shortage. The more areas that rely on wind energy rather than its less sustainable counterparts, the less water is used to run these not so environmentally friendly power plants.
- Wind energy is far less harmful to our health: The use of wind energy helps to cut significant amounts of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, both of which are air pollutants known for creating smog and can even trigger asthma attacks. If we reduce these pollutants, we’ll help to reduce rates of respiratory issues, thus increasing the overall health of people.
- Wind energy is renewable: There are countless advantages to using wind energy, the main advantage being its renewability. Wind energy doesn’t pollute the earth, directly or indirectly, with nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide or sulfur dioxide. It doesn’t cause smog or acid rain, and there will always be an unlimited supply of wind, which can be harnessed for energy.
- Wind energy is clean and sustainable: Wind energy is extremely clean, it does not rely on the combustion of fossil fuels, and it does not pollute the air. Wind energy is also sustainable. Wind comes from the rotation of the Earth, the heating of the atmosphere by the sun, and from varying terrains like mountains, canyons, and oceans or large bodies of freshwater. Minus any serious disruptions to the natural occurrences on our planet’s surfaces, wind will continue to blow for the foreseeable future, making it a sustainable energy source.
- Wind energy is a domestic source of energy: Wind is a source of energy that is found all throughout the United States and in abundance. When the wind is harnessed to generate electricity, it decreases our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Wind energy can be a major player in helping the United States achieve full energy independence.
- Wind energy enables industry growth and competitiveness in the U.S.: The United States has an ideal landscape and geography for large-scale wind farms. Some locations in the West, Mid-West, and off-shore on either the East or West coasts have almost an unlimited supply of wind that has a steady presence day in and day out. Also, there are vast regions in Southern states like Texas that are also capable of consistent wind. Wind energy offers a great investment opportunity for American businesses and investors with new wind energy projects currently seeing 10 billion dollars a year in new investments. The United States also has a highly skilled labor force that is ideal for clean energy technologies like wind energy. Many workers in the fossil fuel industry will be able to make a smooth transition to the wind energy industry as the United States’ dependence on fossil fuels continues to decrease and be replaced with renewable energy sources.
- Wind energy creates jobs: In 2020, wind energy had over 100,000 employees involved in all aspects of energy generation from wind farms and wind turbines. Currently, one of the fastest-growing jobs in the United States is a wind turbine technician. There are some estimates that show a 600% increase in the number of employees that will be needed to support the wind energy industry by the year 2050. These jobs would mainly be involved in the manufacturing of wind turbines, installation of wind farms, maintenance of new and existing infrastructure, and support services/administration.
- Wind turbines can be built on existing farms or ranches: If you are a farmer or ranch owner, you may be able to inquire about having one or multiple wind turbines installed on your land. This can be a win-win situation for both a power generation company and for a farmer or ranch owner. The power company does not have to purchase the land to install the wind turbines, and they can instead simply pay the landowner a rental fee. The landowner will still get to work their land how they see fit, minus a fraction of the land that will be required for the wind turbine. The landowner will then also secure an additional income stream through the rent payments they will collect from the energy company.
What are some of the cons of wind energy?
While there are a lot of pros to wind energy, there is one reason why wind energy may not be the only source of energy we use just yet:
- Wind energy can be unpredictable: Some areas just don’t get a lot of wind. In theory, if an entire town is completely reliant on one specific wind farm, and that town has a month that isn’t particularly windy, the town’s energy production will suffer. This inconsistency may cause them to opt for a more steady source of energy, and an alternative source to wind may not be as environmentally friendly.
- Wind energy competes against more established sources: Conventional sources of electricity generation have been the focus and the driver of the U.S. economy for a much longer time than wind energy, although windmill technology has been around for hundreds of years. Historically, the United States has focused more investment on fossil fuel extraction and its use in energy production, making the technology and process cheaper than other energy sources. As the cost of wind energy continues to become more competitive with conventional methods of energy generation, we may begin to see more investors choosing wind energy over fossil fuels and other conventional methods of energy production.
- Wind energy is often located in remote locations: Wind farms are typically located in rural areas, far away from the urban centers that have the highest energy demands. Because of this, it can be a bit expensive to build the transmission lines necessary to carry large amounts of electricity from the rural areas to the urban centers.
- Wind farms may not be the most profitable use of land: Although wind may be an almost unlimited resource, the land is not. Depending on the location and investment timeline, there are many uses for land that can be more profitable than a wind farm. New wind energy construction projects have to compete against other interests that may have more profitable ideas for the use of a patch of land.
- Wind energy has not reached its technological maturity: The United States has only recently started to focus on wind energy as an energy source that could provide a significant portion of the total U.S. energy demand. The technology is still behind where it should be to keep costs low and to ensure that energy generation is as efficient as possible. Each year, huge amounts of progress are being made in advancing wind energy technology.
How do wind power turbines work?
Turbines are used to transfer spinning energy into electric energy. The spinning turbines create power that is sent to an electrical generator to transform the energy. Wind turbines work exactly like other turbine technologies. For example, a hydroelectric dam will use water to spin turbines. A nuclear power plant will split atoms to heat water, which creates steam to spin turbines. The same kind of technology is used for a wind turbine, however, instead of water or steam, it is the force of wind that spins turbines. Generators are the point of contact between the renewable energy station (wind farm, power plant, etc.) and the transmission wires that guide electrical currents to where it is most useful. So, now that we know the pros and cons of wind energy and how wind turbines work, what are the pros and cons of the wind turbines?
What are some of the advantages of wind turbines?
- They are very space-efficient. Because wind turbines are so tall, they work upwards, taking up very little space. Of course, wind farms themselves tend to vary in size, from a few turbines to hundreds of turbines over the space of a large area. Their size also depends on whether they are offshore or onshore. In general, however, wind turbines take up minimal space, leaving the rest of these areas for farming and wildlife to continue as normal.
- Wind farms create employment, bringing up the overall quality of life. This then leads to more money being poured into the local economy, which can then result in a better quality of life in areas where wind farms are constructed.
- They don’t cost a lot to run, which can indirectly save further energy. An initial investment is required before a wind farm can get up and running, which can be costly. However, once a wind turbine has been manufactured and installed, the maintenance costs and efforts required are minimal. If a site rarely needs a technician to visit and maintain the turbine, it is also saving on regular fuel costs that would have been incurred by that technician traveling to the site.
What are some of the disadvantages of wind turbines?
- There’s a lot of debate about the aesthetics of wind farms. Some people actually enjoy the look of wind turbines in a field, but local residents can be concerned that a wind farm is spoiling the appearance of the local landscape. Of course, most wind turbines are located in remote areas with very few people nearby, so this is not a regular occurrence. It’s also not a problem when it comes to offshore wind farms, for obvious reasons!
- Wind farms can be an expensive investment. They are still an investment, of course, but the manufacturing and installation of wind turbines require a lot of money initially, both in commercial and residential applications.
- It could be argued that none of these negative aspects of wind energy really outweigh the positive elements. When it comes to the sheer amount of water, money and wasted energy a wind farm saves, it’s clear that wind is a good source of energy overall.
How do wind turbines affect the environment? Are windmills harmful?
Windmills are entirely harmless for the most part. The only concern that has been consistently voiced about wind turbines is that of harming local nature and wildlife.
The National Wind Coordinating Committee (NWCC) did find that bird and bat deaths due to collisions with wind turbines occurred and that air pressure changes caused by the large spinning turbines resulted in habitat disruption.
Despite this, the NWCC concluded that the overall impact was low, and there was no significant threat to any species or their general population. So, this has not proved to be a common problem; because wind turbines are usually spaced so far apart, most of the land can still be used as normal.
Although sparse, wind turbines do have indirect negative effects on the environment. Materials used to build wind turbine components have their own impact on the environment, caused by the likely usage of fossil fuels during production2.
How long do wind turbines last?
The average wind turbine can last anywhere from 20 to 25 years, depending on how well they are maintained and what kind of environmental conditions they are exposed to. The cost of maintenance increases as the turbine gets older, so at some point, it might be better to simply retire a wind turbine and place a new one in its place. Wind turbines are designed to safely withstand wind speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. Any speeds greater than that and the wind turbine will be shut down temporarily until wind speeds have reduced. A wind turbine that is placed in an area where wind speeds regularly hover above 45 meters per second or that are exposed to extreme weather conditions on a fairly regular basis may not last as long as a wind turbine in a more gentle environment3.
Where is wind energy most used?
So, which states produce the most wind energy? Surprisingly, the nation’s wind energy leader is Texas, which is known as the oil state. There are over 150 wind farms in Texas, with a total combined rated capacity of 30,000 MW4. One MW is equal to one Million Watts. To understand how much wind energy is produced in Texas, keep in mind that one MW of traditional coal-based energy can power up to 650 average homes.
Wind energy accounted for 21% of the total electricity generated in Texas. They lead the U.S. when it comes to wind energy employment, with 24,000 people employed in the wind industry. Following Texas, the top 4 U.S. states for wind energy production are Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois5.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you need to be in those states to benefit from their wind farms. Wind farms all around the country are generating clean energy for the national power grid, and so when you join Inspire and switch to renewable energy, you help more of the nation’s power come from these renewable energy sources.
Is wind energy increasing in the U.S.?
Wind energy in the United States is continuing to grow year-to-year, however, due to some of the drawbacks of wind energy and its constant competition with other energy sources, growth has been slower than it could be. That being said, growth of wind energy use in the United States still has been dramatic. In the year 2000, wind energy generated about 6 billion kilowatt-hours. In 2020, wind energy electricity generation increased to about 338 billion kilowatt-hours. That is an increase of around 5,633% in the last 20 years6.
That is a significant increase in wind energy production, but it is important to note that even with that dramatic increase in the last 20 years, wind farms only accounted for 8.4% of the total U.S. electricity generation in 2020. As wind turbine technology continues to become more advanced and the cost of producing energy from wind decreases, there are many predictions of an increase of total U.S. electricity generation over the next decade.
Is wind energy cost-effective?
It certainly is — it’s an almost-free source of energy to harness and an efficient source of energy for the home. Energy sources like fossil fuels are inclined to fluctuate in price, depending on what is available and how much it costs worldwide. Wind energy, however, is a lot steadier cost-wise and can be offered at fixed prices over much longer periods of time. In the long run, wind energy will help energy prices come down. Our members that have switched to renewable energy are helping future-proof our energy grid and prevent price hikes by utility companies.
How is wind energy sustainable?
Wind energy guarantees longevity as wind itself will never run out or even deplete. And the best part is that the average life of a wind turbine is between 20 and 25 years making it an efficient piece of equipment to build and generate energy over a long period of time. Unlike most conventional sources of energy, wind power cuts pollution, saves the use of billions of gallons of water a year, and reduces carbon emissions.
All of these factors combined make wind energy an excellent candidate for the cleanest and most environmentally friendly way of sourcing energy, as well as being truly sustainable. As mentioned before, wind energy does not require any water to cultivate; therefore is essentially drought-proof. This factor is especially pertinent in areas of the country that are prone to droughts, such as Nevada, Idaho, and California. It is more important now than ever to have an awareness of the effects of each energy source and make a change accordingly.
Wind turbines create power without the use of fossil fuels, which is an absolutely vital part of what makes wind energy so suitable for the environment.
As a fast-growing renewable energy source, wind energy is only limited by the temporary restrictions and downfalls that are present in the technology. As we continue to develop new and more advanced technologies within the wind energy industry, the cost to produce electricity will continue to decrease,and the efficiency at which energy is produced through wind will continue to increase.
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