Energy is as essential to human existence as water, air and food but the challenge for mankind in the 21st century, is to find energy sources that are eco-friendly and don’t continue to deplete the earth’s non-renewable resources. The pace of research into alternative and sustainable energy sources has increased considerably over the past ten years, creating new and exciting possibilities.
This research focuses on ways of harnessing “free” and readily available energy sources, in an economical and environmentally-friendly manner. Wind blows in every country around the world and across the vast oceans. When scientists looked at harnessing the power of the wind, as sailors have done for centuries, they found that it was possible to convert this power into a usable energy source.
Farmers have been using wind power for centuries to drive windmills that pumped water and ground grain. Small wind generators have been used on sailing boats and pleasure craft to generate electricity and charge batteries.
How Does Wind Power Work?
Wind turbines harness the power of the wind. These are tall towers with huge blades fixed at the top. The towers are typically 20 feet tall (6m) with the diameter of the blades measuring ten feet (3m) across, but can be larger or smaller than this. The force of the wind turns the blades which rotates a shaft that is attached to a generator, producing earth-friendly power. Wind speeds of at least nine miles per hour (14 km/hour), on average, are needed to power generators to produce electricity.
The most common application of wind turbines is in rural areas, where the open landscape allows for maximum air flow with minimum disruption to people. They have also been established off-shore in some areas. In urban areas, a wind turbine would need to be mounted above the height of surrounding buildings in order to get sufficient wind velocity to turn the blades. There will probably be quite strict regulations regarding the use of wind turbines within a residential area.
How Effective and Cost-Efficient are Wind Turbines?
In rural areas, wind power is a cost-effective method of power generation; in fact, it is possibly the most cost-effective renewable source of power available in these situations. While the initial cost of building the turbines and setting up the power generation system is quite high, the system has very low on-going costs, with basic maintenance being the only running cost. As long as the wind blows, power is generated. As research and mass-production continue to lower the cost of wind turbines, more people and companies are taking advantage of this earth-friendly method of power generation.
The biggest wind turbine built to date in theUnited Statesis capable of generating sufficient clean energy to power approximately 600 houses. A small turbine in an average backyard can generate enough power for that one household or even a small business. Generally, turbines are grouped together to create ‘wind farms’, with the potential to create large amounts of clean energy that is fed into the electricity grid.
What are the Disadvantages of Wind Power?
There are many opponents to wind power, mainly on the grounds that they wouldn’t want one in their neighborhood. The turbines emit a noise which, when it comes from a wind farm of multiple turbines, can resemble the noise of a small jet engine. There are also objections to the visual pollution to the landscape, especially in rural settings. The other main problem is the danger to wildlife, with birds often being killed or injured after flying through the blades and being hit.
The main disadvantage of wind power is the actual unreliability of the wind itself. This free resource rarely blows at a constant velocity, making consistent power generation a problem. Also, the power generated by wind power has to be used immediately as it can only be stored in batteries, making it a short-term answer to eco-friendly power.
However, despite these limitations, it has been estimated that, at the current rate of growth of the wind power industry, it will be generating around 30% of the world’s energy by the year 2050.
So, what do you think about wind power as a source of energy?
While these may not be the most attractive part of the landscape, I think this type of energy generation should be explored further. We recently travelled to Nebraska and Colorado and saw these everywhere. Especially in the Plains states, it seems like a great fit because it is so windy there.
I agree. If there is the landscape to support it these definitely should be integrated in the nearby cities power supply.
I would have to agree with the fact that they could be an eyesore, but then again, we’ve gotten used to overhead powerlines and those power stations in the middle of residential neighborhoods. My biggest concern would be the point raised in the last paragraph about the reliability of the wind itself. The same way the mother nature deprives us of the sun’s rays which renders solar panels useless at times, the same could be said about not having sustained winds that would be strong enough to create energy for long periods of time.
You are totally right. There isn’t wind all of the time. That is why, to me the ideal solution would be to incorporate all of these solutions and use them in a combination with each other.
And yes, if you ask me, power lines and power stations are just as much eye sores.
I feel that wind power and solar power should have been used a long long time ago. the problem is, the current establishments make so much money from our current energy sources, that they do not want to see alternate forms of energy come about.
Agreed 100%. There are a lot of corporate politics and investors involved that make a rapid switch over complicated. To me, I say let’s just take the hit but it really isn’t that easy is it- especially with the economy the way it is. Hopefully there will be some move in this direction soon though.
I believe in alternative energy, but it has to get less expensive and more widely used to have an impact. If we could just reduce our dependence on oil by 10% a year, we would make progress.
Agreed. Price is definitely an issue and needs to be addressed. I think governments need to put in subsidized programs and really invest in the future. It’s the only way this thing is really going to take off.
You make a good point on the reliability of wind power. I think a good start would be to have this along with conventional energy. Similar to Toyota’s success story with the Prius hybrid.
Agreed. I mentioned this earlier to another reader. No one solution is going to work on it’s own. Instead, by using a combined approach of these different green technologies, we can ensure access to power at any point and weather issues will not play into the picture.
I would happily have a wind turbine in my backyard over a nuclear or coal fired power plant. We all need to make adjustments to live more sustainably, and these changes are smaller than many make them out to be.
Agreed. Things aren’t nearly as difficult as they seem. People are just lazy and don’t like change. Change can be good though so we need to make the effort to do it. I too would have a turbine in my yard. Why not?!
Great post! I saw the capability of wind power first hand when I spent a year living in North Dakota during grad school. We ought to just strap a windmill on top of every billboard on the interstate. They are already an eyesore. What’s one more things there anyway.
That would be pretty cool actually. We could generate a lot power based on how many billboards there are. This is the creativity government needs.
Cool post! I actually saw Wind Power being harnessed in Hawaii last week. I was there last year and don’t recall seeing the wind towers when I was there.
Cool. Sounds like Hawaii is making progress.
How was Hawaii? Did you enjoy your trip?
I’ve visited place in Manitoba, Canada that have large wind farms nearby, and the noise is grossly overrated, it’s not bad at all. I think the way to get people on board with this is not just through the promise of a greener future (too abstract for many people… that whole “tragedy of the commons” thing), but through the economic incentives. Think about how much money leaves North America everyday in order to buy foreign oil. Often it is questionable governments that get this money. Green energy is the perfect way to build a domestic economy that will have so many positive spin-off effects. It’s worth substantial government investment IMHO, and I would identify as a “conservative” on most issues!
Now we are talking. That is a great idea. If we could not only be greener but also boost our domestic economy, then we would be solving two huge problems at one time. Can I vote for you? lol.
Where in Manitoba did you visit? That is actually where I am from.
Driving across the US this summer I saw lots of windmill farms. In Europe they are pleniful as well. Seems like a great alternative to me.
Glad to hear that Barb. I always wonder the prevalence of some of these technologies. Glad to hear they are starting to gain popularity.
There are many wind turbines in northern Indiana just north of Lafayette. They are quite a shocking visual site. I suppose that if I lived in the area rather than drive through periodically, I might get used to them.
I don’t think they are any uglier than power stations or power poles but that is just me. Glad to hear Indiana is using them. That is a step in the right direction.
I like wind power just fine, but I think an estimate of 30% of the world’s energy is *wildly* optimistic.
It may be optimistic but I also think it is possible. With the expansion that has happened already, more and more energy from wind is being generated. In prairie lands where wind is prevelant, this type of power solution is quite viable.
Sadly every solution will have pros and cons. It seems pretty attractive since the wind is free. I wonder if there will ever be a way to harness tornadoes, tsunamis, or lightning. Perhaps it is science fiction, but it would be great to convert natural disaster energy into useable energy!
Now wouldn’t that be amazing. Turning a disaster into something beneficial. It may sound far fetched but it wouldn’t surprise me if one day we figure this out.
My problem with sustainable energy is that the articles I read make it seem so damn inefficient. I don’t understand why my phone is more powerful than the computer I owned 4 years ago but solar and wind energy options stay relatively the same?
I wouldn’t want the ugly wind towers in my back yard but I don’t mind them offshore. If win power is so efficient, why isn’t it used more wildly? why hasn’t the towers replaced coal powered generators?
Old habits I guess. People don’t like change. They are either afraid or lazy. I think it is becoming more prevalent in the prairie states and provinces but it still isn’t a huge power supplier yet.
I believe one of the things holding back wind and solar adoption is the lack of an efficient energy storage device. When there is a fuel cell about the size and cost of a refrigerator that can power a house for a week, people will start to go off the grid en masse. I know it sounds far-fetched, but Dr. Nocera at MIT is developing one.
Good to know. I hope he makes some progress with this. You are right though, once the battery life improves, people will find this kind of technology a better investment.
I like the concept of wind and solar power. The biggest challenge we face (In the U.S.) is that the infrastructure currently isn’t built out where it’s economical to move power from the remote locations that are ideal for wind and solar to where the power is needed most.