Wind energy pros and cons

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pros and cons of wind energy
Wind is one of the most popular renewable energy resources in the U.S. Image source: Scientific American

As climate change becomes a bigger threat, countries all over the world are investing in renewable energy. One of the fastest growing renewable energy sources is wind energy.

Right now, wind power accounts for 7% of the total energy generation in the United States, and it has potential for significant growth. But when we’re thinking about how to power our future, it’s important to consider all aspects of an energy source. 

In this article, we’ll help you get a better understanding by breaking down its biggest pros and cons. 

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    Pros and cons of wind energy

    All sources of energy have their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and wind energy is no exception. Recently, there has been a lot of misinformation about wind energy floating around. 

    To clear up some of the confusion, we’re going to outline a few of the most important pros and cons of wind energy, including:

    Wind energy pros and cons
    Pros Cons
    Clean energy source Intermittent
    Renewable energy source Environmental impact
    Space efficient Noise pollution
    Cheap energy Aesthetics
    Promotes jobs Limited locations

    What is wind energy?

    There are several techniques we can use in order to harness energy from the wind, but the most popular method is by using wind turbines. 

    The way wind turbines work can get a bit complicated, but here’s the gist: the kinetic energy stored in the wind turns the blades of the turbine around a rotor. The rotor spins a generator within the turbine, which is what creates usable electricity. 

    Wind energy has been used for quite some time. The first windmill used for electricity production was built in 1888! 

    Advantages of wind energy

    1. Clean energy

    Wind energy is one of the cleanest energy sources. Generating energy using wind turbines does not emit any greenhouse gases. 

    It is true that the manufacturing, transportation, and installation of wind turbines does release some pollution. However, it is nowhere near the level of emissions released from burning fossil fuels. 

    Because the actual production of energy does not have any greenhouse gas emissions, it is considered a source of green energy.

    2. Renewable

    Wind energy is a renewable energy resource, meaning that the source of energy is not depleted when it is used. So, as we use wind energy we don’t decrease the amount of wind available. 

    This is not the case for non-renewable energy sources, like oil and natural gas. As we use fossil fuels, we reduce the amount that is available to be used in the future. 

    3. Space efficient

    Wind turbines can’t be placed too close to one another, which is what makes solar farms so large. The wind turbines themselve, however, don’t take up that much space. 

    The space in between each turbine can be used for things like farming, which is why wind farms are popular in rural areas. Plus, each turbine has the potential to produce a lot of electricity - enough to power approximately 2,500 homes. 

    4. Low-cost energy

    Although wind turbines have high upfront costs, the energy they produce is cheap. This is for a few reasons, one being that you don’t have to pay for any fuel for the turbines. Wind is free! Turbines also have relatively low operating costs once they are erected, and need little maintenance.

    When you consider the upfront investments and cost of operations and maintenance over the lifetime of the turbine, studies show wind energy costs about $0.029 per kilowatt hour. 

    That is much cheaper than coal, which comes out to about $0.036 per kilowatt hour when you consider the cost to build and operate coal power plants. 

    5. Promotes job growth

    The wind industry is seeing rapid growth year after year. Between 2010 and 2018, the amount of installed wind capacity in the U.S. more than doubled, creating enough wind energy production to power over 30 million homes. This growth has created the opportunity for thousands of new jobs. 

    Currently, over 120,000 Americans have wind-powered jobs - ranging from installers to technicians and manufacturers. In fact, the role of wind turbine technician is the second-fastest growing job in America. 

    As wind energy continues to grow in popularity, it is predicted to support more than 600,000 new jobs by 2050. 

    Disadvantages of wind energy

    1. Unpredictable

    Perhaps the biggest disadvantage to wind energy is that it cannot be produced consistently. Energy will only be produced when the wind blows. 

    The amount of energy produced by turbines also depends on the wind speed. Therefore, wind energy is not well-suited to be a base load energy source - AKA our main source of power generation. 

    However, as energy storage technology continues to become more cost-effective, it could be possible to become more reliant on wind energy. For right now though, because of its unreliability, wind turbines have to be used in tandem with other energy sources to meet our electricity demands. 

    2. Threat to wildlife

    Wind energy does not cause environmental problems through greenhouse gas emissions, however, turbines can have an impact on wildlife. 

    Birds, bats, and other flying creatures have slim chances of surviving when taking a direct hit from a rotating wind turbine blade. In fact, studies have estimated that between 140,000 and 500,000 birds die from wind turbines each year. As a comparison, collisions with buildings are estimated to kill between 365 and 988 million birds annually.  

    Carefully planning where wind farms will be built can mitigate how many bird collisions occur. 

    3. Noise

    Noise is a problem for some people that live in the proximity of wind turbines. The generator within the turbine makes a mechanical hum, while the blades create a “whooshing” sound as they move through the air. 

    However, the good news is, newer wind turbines generate much less noise than older turbines, and they will likely become even quieter with more technological advancements. 

    4. Looks

    Wind turbines need to be built high in order to capture enough wind, which makes them a prominent part of any landscape. Some people find that large wind turbines are an eyesore, however, this is more of a personal preference. 

    5. Location limitations

    In order for wind turbines to be economically viable, they need to be installed in a place where they will produce enough electricity. Wind farms are best suited for coastal areas, the tops of hills, and open planes - essentially anywhere with strong, reliable wind. 

    Most of these suitable places tend to be in remote areas far outside of cities and towns, in more rural areas or offshore. Because of this distance, new infrastructure, such as power lines, have to be built in order to connect a wind farm to the power grid. 

    This can be costly, and may cause some harm to the surrounding environment (i.e by tearing down trees to make way for power lines). 

    Wind energy has a bright future

    The bottom line: the future of the wind energy industry looks promising. 

    Although there are some downsides to wind energy, such as it being an intermittent energy source and a threat to certain wildlife, the benefits are impossible to ignore. This is why wind farms continue to get built, both on and offshore. 

    While you can get wind turbines built to power your home, it can be costly and difficult to find suitable space. If you want to power your home with clean energy, consider installing solar panels. 

    Using solar energy is clean, renewable, and it’s a great financial investment for homeowners. Check out our solar calculator to see how much you can save with a solar power installation. 

    How much money can a solar roof save you?

    Key takeaways

    • Wind energy is turned into usable electricity by wind turbines, which are turned by the movement of wind that then spins a generator.
    • The main advantages of wind energy are that it does not release greenhouse gases, it is renewable, it is space-efficient, it makes cheap energy, and it promotes job growth.
    • Some of the main disadvantages of wind energy include unpredictability, it is a threat to wildlife, it creates low-level noise, they aren’t aesthetically pleasing, and there are limited locations suitable for wind turbines.
    • The wind industry has grown steadily over the past few decades, and it looks like it will continue to grow well into the future.
    Looking for lists of pros and cons for other types of energy sources?
     - Author of Solar Reviews

    Catherine Lane

    SolarReviews Blog Author

    Catherine is a researcher and content specialist at SolarReviews. She has strong interests in issues related to climate and sustainability which led her to pursue a degree in environmental science at Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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