Renewable Energy: Advantages And Disadvantages Of Wind Energy
It is indisputable that electricity has completely revolutionised modern society. By creating a better and more efficient lifestyle, electricity has now been embedded in all facets of our day to day lives, to which we now rely on it heavily. With the perpetual growth and advances in technology globally, it is palpable that the demand for energy is increasing significantly as a direct result of our modern day requirements. Can we continue to meet this demand? Currently, the most well-established energy source is obtained through the thermal decomposition of naturally obtained fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gasses etc). While this may be a relatively consistent means of generating energy in our current day, our exponential growth in population and demand for electricity has meant that our once abundant supply of fossil fuels has been heavily depleted and risks being completely exhausted.
Essentially, this is due to the millions of years that the fossils take to fully replenish in conjunction with the superfluous amounts of fossil fuels we burn daily to meet our energy demands. At the current rates of production, it is projected that oil will run out in 53 years, natural gas in 54 years, and coal in 110 years. To add to the negative foreseeable future of the non-renewable energy source in fossil fuels, comprehensive studies have shown that the process yields substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. As a result, ‘global warming’ and ‘acid rain’ are promoted, which has an exceedingly severe effect on the environment.
Essentially, the continuous depletion of fossil fuels in combination with the harsh environmental repercussions has sent mankind into a search for an alternative to solve this global enigma. With such adversity surrounding the non-renewable energy scheme, the idea of ‘renewable energy’has been introduced. This energy comes from natural sources (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal heat etc) that are restored on a more prompt timescale. Despite the inconsistent nature and intermittency issues of renewables, we have seen consistent inflation in the number of renewable systems as the effectiveness increases by the day. Ultimately, this report will perlustrate the viability of wind as an adequate energy source for the future social and economic development of the world.
Wind is essentially an intricate form of energy that is evident due to solar energy, the variation in land and water formations, and the continuous rotation of the earth. As a result of these factors, there are considerable variations in atmospheric pressure around the world. When a difference in atmospheric pressure exists, air moves from the higher to the lower pressure area, resulting in winds with a diverse range of speeds. Across different regions, wind patterns can be established which helps to outline the areas with consistent high wind zones.
Basically, wind turbines are used to convert the kinetic energy in wind into other sources of usable electricity. Windfarms operate under a relatively simple concept, but have become more sophisticated as technology has been enhanced to increase the yield of usable energy. As wind hits the turbine, simple airfoil technology allows the propeller to rotate around the rotor. These rotator blades have the ability to be adjusted depending on the wind speed. This is in order to find the best pitch and maximise energy output. Because the turbines turn at such a low velocity (due to noise constraints and mechanical problems), the gearbox (located in the nacelle) converts the lower speed rotation of the drive shaft into high-speed rotations using a planetary gear set arrangement. Consequently, the electricity that is produced is transferred through the cables to the base where a step-up transformer is situated. This energy can then be transmitted to a power grid that it used to distribute the electricity accordingly.
Advantages of Wind Energy:
Wind Energy is one of the most eco-friendly energy sources available in this current day. Most non-renewable energy sources need to be burnt which releases carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. After comprehensive studies, it has been confirmed that these greenhouse gases contribute to global warming and acid rain. On the other hand, wind turbines produce no harmful emissions and therefore do not impact the earth, water table or the quality of the air we breathe. Wind-generated electricity relies solely on the presence of wind. Since there is always an imbalance of thermal input, there is no way in which an atmospheric ‘equilibrium’ could be obtained that completely terminates wind. Hence, wind is both completely renewable and sustainable, which means that it is a consistent form of energy that could provide electricity for the foreseeable future. The wind energy industry has flourished since wind turbines became commercially available. As a result of this, copious amounts of people have been provided with a stable job and workplace.
According to data released by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the wind power industry employed 1.15 million people in the manufacturing, installation, maintenance and energy consultation regarding wind-powered electricity. For rural communities (where wind farms are normally situated) this has relieved a lot of money- related stress that comes with trying to make a living. Not only has this led to economic growth by minimising poverty, but it has also created a better quality of life for developing nations. Land-based utility-scale wind is one of the lowest priced renewable energy technologies available to this day. Depending on the wind resource and project financing of the particular wind farm, it normally costs between four and six cents per kilowatt hour. Electricity derived from wind farms is then sold at a fixed price. This fact in conjunction with the idea that its fuel is ‘free’ means that wind energy alleviates price inconsistency that is often associated with fossil fuels. The worldwide potential for wind power is prodigious. Multiple research teams have also been able to establish an amazing development; More than 400 terawatts of power could be generated from surface winds and more than 1800 terawatts could be extracted from atmospheric winds. Comparatively, people globally use about 1800 terawatts of power. Ultimately, it is important to understand that these amounts are immensely bigger than our current and projected global energy demands. Because this also provides an alternate form of creating energy for all countries, it gives a sense of freedom from the political volatility of oil and gas from other countries.
Disadvantages of Wind Energy:
It is inevitable that wind fluctates. Although wind energy is sustainable and will never ‘run out’, wind is inconsistent as patterns change considerably over the course of the day. As a result, wind energy is not considered as an effective base load energy source. This effectively means that other sources are required to be used in tandem with turbines to assure we meet our high and continuously increasing energy demands. Although costs are reducing over time, wind turbines still require large financial investments to cover the installation and maintenance costs. Because high wind sites are normally stationed in rural areas, this also means that more money, time and effort is required to build the turbines and distribute electricity into the urban areas that are more energy dense. One of the most common disadvantages of wind energy is the noise and aesthetic pollution that is at the forefront of public objection. Because of the outright size of wind farms, they are often considered as a large detriment to the landscape – which is what we are essentially trying to preserve when using renewable systems.
Additionally, it can be noted that people living in close proximity to windfarms often complain about the noise leading to physiological distress and hearing loss. The most common wind turbine consists of 116-ft blades atop a 212-ft tower for a total height of 328 feet. Overall, the blades cover a vertical airspace of just under an acre. Because this area is so substantial, wind turbines pose a significant threat to wildlife. For example, with more than 6,700 turbines in Ontario, over 16,000 birds and between 26,000 and 93,000 bats are killed each year in that province alone. Although these numbers are insignificant compared to other manmade structures, wind farms still contribute to mortality rates among birds/bats and will continue to increase as wind farms become more popular. Another key point of contention against wind farms is that they require much larger amounts of land to match the same amount of electricity that a typical fossil fuel system would generate. This is an important downgrade of their ‘eco friendly’ motto that is often conveniently ignored. While wind turbines have been known to have been a successful economic investment, it may not be the most effective use of land as alternative uses of the land (ie. farming animals/crops) may be more profitable.