For as long as the sun is still shining, the winds will whirl, giving us the opportunity to harness its energy. Wind power has always been humanity’s powerful friend. We traversed the globe in sailing ships propelled by the wind, windmills were used by farmers to grind their produce and also pump water and today we are looking to its power for our electricity needs. Currently in the world, wind power is ranked as the fastest-growing energy source.
According to a recent press release from AWEA, by 2030 the United States will produce 20% of its electricity from wind power. This will continue to assist us with reducing our reliance on environmentally harmful fossil fuels. It’s a clean source of energy, producing no air or water pollution, it’s renewable and also does not generate greenhouse gases. It’s gaining popularity as a viable alternative for generating power for both individuals and businesses. And the best part is…it’s free. Once a turbine has been erected, operational costs are basically zero, which is why we are seeing governments offering tax incentives to encourage wind energy development. Every year we are seeing further advancements in this technology, along with mass production. As a result, cheaper turbines are coming to market.
When deciding on the best location for your wind turbine, windmill, wind generator or wind farm there are a range of atmospheric and geographic considerations to factor in to your choice of adopting this energy source.
The most ideal location is one that is flat but also elevated. If it’s placed on uneven terrain you might experience slowing airspeeds due to wind blockage. You do not want to see loads of potential obstacles such as trees and buildings in your chosen wind turbine site. A good measurement is for it to be at least 30 feet above anything within 300 feet.
At a higher altitude wind speed increases, so many wind farms are situated on hilltops, some of which have been specifically flattened to maximize harnessing the wind. You are also looking for a large area where there can be the greatest possible distance between each of the turbines; otherwise, they might start to impact the efficacy of each other. This slowing down of wind speed is known as “wind park effect,” which is why larger areas are preferred.
It is vital to research the atmospheric conditions of the chosen area. You might have a perfectly hilly area, but it might not be windy enough. You are looking for a location that boasts at least 10 miles per hour of stable wind speed. If the area is prone to storms or intense bursts of wind speed, this could lead to damaged turbines.
A recent development in wind turbine location has seen them being placed out at sea, which yields consistent and impressive wind speeds, but of course these are substantially more expensive to set up.
What are people not loving about wind farms? Many people think they are aesthetic eyesores – giant egg beaters or airplane propellers on a stick. They are thought of as visually polluting the beauty of natural landscapes.
They are also a threat to wildlife, as the edges of the turbines have caused the deaths of many birds and bats (estimated to be between 10,000 – 440,000). However, this number is not nearly as large as deaths from collisions with buildings (976 million). There have been noise complaints leveled at the wind turbine farms. They can create noise pollution of between 50-60 decibels, which is why the offshore option can be more attractive.
Wind reliability is a factor, as turbines often only function at about 30% of their capacity. It’s an unpredictable source and not suited as a base load energy source option unless there are imminent breakthroughs in energy storage technologies. It’s a costly upfront outlay and will require financial incentives to implement it widely. In the event of high winds or a severe storm, the blades of the turbine could become unhinged and become a safety hazard to people in the area. If the wind farm is set up in a remote area where the wind speed is ideal, there may be an additional cost of bringing that energy to residential homes along specially built transmission lines (an expensive exercise).
There can be an environmental impact if a certain area has to be denuded of trees to make space for the wind turbines. The condition known as “shadow flicker” is when the blades cast a shadow as they turn altering light for up to 100 minutes per year. There could be a loss of wildlife habitat when one of these large wind farms are built, impacting animals and plants in the area.
What are people embracing about wind energy?
First, it’s a clean source that doesn’t pollute the air and uses absolutely no destructive chemicals. It helps us invest in our own national economy and not rely on importing oil. As previously mentioned – its free; it can never be drained and exhausted and will only ever become cheaper and cheaper. They do not produce harmful particulate emissions that add to mercury contamination in our water supplies. They actually conserve water. It’s extremely cost effective, with very low operational costs.
Since 1980 wind power prices have dropped by 80%1, and are set to continue decreasing. Land owners can make large amounts of additional income from renting their land to wind farm developers. You too can benefit from the energy generated on your property. Many farmers are able to have wind farms on their land and continue working their farms as they don’t occupy that much space.
Every large wind turbine is able to meet the energy demand of 600 U.S. homes. They are available in a range of sizes to be able to meet residential and small business needs as well. Surplus energy generated can bring in some healthy profits for the owners of turbines in their “backyards”. In answer to their “ugly” status, the newest models have upped their beauty stakes and don’t look so rustic; rather, they are sleeker and more modern.
Wind energy solutions have the power to generate 20 times more than the whole global population will ever need. It has the power to provide income to rural economies. It’s a new source of property taxes. For example, in southwest Minnesota, wind farms have generated $250,000 direct lease payments to landowners and about $1 million per year in property tax revenue. It also creates a variety of new short and long term jobs (30% more than a coal plant and 66% more than a nuclear plant). In 43 U.S. States, 500 factories build wind turbine parts and materials, employing nearly 20,000 people. Wind Energy costs are fixed and free, versus fossil fuels and nuclear power that experience great fluctuations in prices due to transportation and mining costs.
In 2015 over 20 million U.S. homes were powered by wind energy from 48,800 installed wind turbines. Over the last ten years, there have been $128 billion in investments in wind energy, providing 88,000 new jobs. In Vermont, Texas and Maine, 20% of electricity was wind-generated, gaining them membership in the 10% and up club (member states: South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon and Colorado). The U.S is way out in the lead with its wind production initiatives. It’s a home-grown resource that sees American innovation building some of the most productive wind turbines on the planet. The Canadian neighbors are following suit, as their geographic location and weather patterns are ideal for wind farm distribution.
Wind power is one of the key pillars of our sustainable future. It provides jobs, it’s affordable and doesn’t impact the environment. It’s a no-brainer!
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