Since the first energy crisis in the 1970s, discussions have continued involving the rising dependencies on oil within countries around the world. As a result, research has since ensued concerning alternative energy sources and their utilization. Alternative or renewable energy sources, such as wind, wave, and solar are a result of nature, and thus do not contaminate or pollute the environment. Unlike renewable resources, fossil fuels produce carbon dioxide: a harmful element that is detrimental to the environment. Wind energy is perhaps one of the more studied options in regards to renewable energy resources, and presents a clean and environmentally friendly source that does not pollute the atmosphere with harmful by-products.
Despite all of the technological advances through history, wind remains to be beyond control. The earliest wind machines come from the ancient Persian windmills, dating to around 200 B.C, which were constructed in order to grind grain. Later, windmills were brought to the Western hemisphere in the 1100s A.D. By the thirteenth century, windmills were regularly used throughout the larger part of Europe (Richards, 2010). The uneven heating of the earth from the sun generates wind. The atmosphere, which envelops the earth, obtains solar heat close to the equator, which maintains a consistently hot temperature throughout each year. As the air moves around the earth, it averages the temperature extremes, thus producing surface wind, which can then be harnessed for the generation of power (Richards, 2010).
Wind energy is quite similar to solar energy, as wind energy is generated from the difference in atmospheric pressure between a higher point of the ground and Earth’s surface. As a clean and environmentally safe source, wind energy does not produce detrimental gases that harm the atmosphere. In addition, with offshore wind energy, the aesthetics of an area around a wind farm are not impacted either (Rivkin & Silk, 2013).
The technology of wind energy is relatively simple and straightforward. The basic elements of a wind turbine are comprised of typically 3 blades, a gearbox, and a generator. Wind is thus converted into electricity from the wind, which rotates the wind turbine’s blades, which hence rotates a rotor. Then, the gearbox transforms the low speed shaft of the rotor to a high-speed. Consequently, mechanical energy is transformed into electrical energy (Richards, 2010).
In spite of the fact that offshore wind turbines may present more of an expense in regards to installing and maintaining when compared to onshore wind turbines, offshore wind turbines have many advantages. With wind turbines being located closer to the sea, this translates to a higher production of energy. However, wind farms that are located further inland and offshore do not present any visual impact. In addition, wind turbines produce quite a bit of noise, so locating them in more rural areas is another added benefit. Offshore wind farms also produce high amounts of electricity similar to onshore wind farms, as they are located in more open, sparsely located areas, thus allowing the rotor to catch and respond to the stronger winds (Rivkin & Silk, 2013).
Wind energy presents several environmental benefits. As a means of renewable, clean, and also sustainable electricity generation, wind energy is certainly one of the most economically friendly and effective renewable energy alternatives. In addition, wind energy is key to aiding in reducing global warming and its effects, with less than one percent of conventional generation of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity delivered (Rivkin & Silk, 2013).
Although wind energy presents a host of advantages in regards to its energy and environmental friendliness, there are several challenges, as well. One of the primary challenges is the fact that wind does not have the same strength at all times of the year. In addition, wind is unpredictable, meaning that in certain places of the world where wind is not always reliable, there should be a back-up source on days where the wind is less strong. For example, in Denmark, hydroelectric power is coupled with wind power in order to ensure electricity is provided at all times reliably (Richards, 2010).
Wind energy also produces an environmental disadvantage. Wind turbines are often responsible for birds’ mortality. However, the number of fatalities for birds is relatively small when compared to fatalities related to building collisions, along with voltage and power lines. Offshore wind energy can also be detrimental as it changes the sea depth, and may also impact the coastal and landscape safety (Richards, 2010).
Lastly, wind energy presents an expensive challenge, as the repairs for offshore wind farms are more extensive when compared to onshore wind farms. Offshore wind farms require crane vessels, in addition to reliably good weather, in order to reach the turbines. Wind turbines require long repair periods, and thus offshore wind farms result in lower production of electricity. For example, at a wind farm in Ireland, it is estimated that the turbines are available only half of the year for repair (Rivkin & Silk, 2013). However, it is undeniable that wind energy presents a viable and overall environmentally friendly option, especially in comparison to fossil fuels: the predominant source for energy used today.
In summary, wind energy presents a number of advantages environmentally, economically, and for the overall climate of the Earth. However, there are several challenges associated with wind energy, such as its expensive and lengthy repairs, its threat to bird mortality, and the fact that wind is not always consistent, and therefore not always reliable. In spite of these challenges, wind energy still boasts a host of benefits to the climate, and thus is a viable option for generating energy as a renewable resource.
- Richards, J. (2010). Wind energy. New York: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
- Rivkin, D., & Silk, L. (2013). Wind energy. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.