After so many years of over-reliance on fossil fuels, renewable energy sources are finally coming in to their own. As more and more people look to go green, the demand for clean, green energy has never been higher.
Of the options available, wind energy has been the big mover, and is currently the fastest growing energy source in the world. Many countries have made commitments to reduce their carbon footprint, and have turned to wind energy in an effort to do so.
Others wish to reduce their reliance, and subsequent exposure to price fluctuations, on imported fossil fuels. Either way, wind power is on the rise.
So what is wind energy?
By harnessing the natural power of the wind to generate electricity, we are able to produce a clean form of energy. Generally, this is achieved with the use of wind turbines.
Wind turbines look like gigantic fans sticking out of the ground, or the propeller blades from an airplane. They are designed so that the wind flow turns the blades of the turbine, which in turn rotates a generator to create electricity.
In times of strong wind, the turbine can generate more power. Conversely, when the wind dies down, the turbines will not rotate as fast and will generate less electricity.
Although there is a growing market for small, standalone wind turbines, most turbines are located in wind farms. A wind farm is the name given to multiple turbines that are grouped together in a certain area. The area will have been specifically chosen for its natural geographic properties, and extensive research will have been carried out to accurately assess just how much power a turbine can be expected to produce in an average season.
So what are the benefits of these kind of energy?
Firstly, it’s environmentally friendly. Wind turbines don’t produce any pollution – they are an entirely clean source of energy. Quite aside from simply being good for the environment, the reduction of air pollutants can also result in cost savings for many countries in the form of reduced carbon taxes and a lessened reliance on fossil fuels.
Similarly, just like solar energy, you don’t have to “import” wind. It’s already there – you only need to make use of it.
It is also reliable, provided that the necessary research and due diligence has been completed. In layman’s terms, wind is caused by the sun heating the earth’s atmosphere unevenly.
While there are inevitable seasonal factors which will reduce the wind power for periods of the year, the overall output of a turbine over the course of a year can be predicted with confidence once a suitable location has been selected for the wind farm. This is of particular benefit for countries that are highly dependent on foreign oil and fossil fuels, as they can reduce their exposure to fluctuating oil prices and other variables.
One of the most attractive things about wind power is the growth potential. Wind power currently provides less than 5% of the total power usage in the US. However, there are some states that get over 25% of their electricity from wind energy. The potential for growth in the sector is astronomical.
That all sounds well and good, but there are some issues with wind energy that do need mentioning.
First and foremost – the noise.
Wind turbines make noise. They may seem to be reasonably slow moving, but when you have a blade that is over 100 feet in length, the ends of the blade can easily be spinning well over 100 mph. There’s no way of avoiding it – that’s going to make noise. As the turbines themselves aren’t powered, there is rarely any mechanical noise, but rather a consistent swooshing.
Although wind energy is a green source of energy, the turbines themselves can provide a threat to natural wildlife. As you can imagine, installing a wind farm is a fairly construction-heavy job, and any kind of large scale construction like that can impact on local wildlife and their habitat.
That being said, modern designs continue to improve, and wind turbines today are becoming far less invasive to set up.
There are some locations where wind energy is just not a realistic solution. Geographical issues are the main hindrance, and it is not unusual to find that the best location for a wind farm is in an extremely remote area, nowhere near the city or hub that actually needs the energy.
Reassuringly, there are just as many locations with a high demand for energy that are perfect for wind farms, and they are popping up all over the place.
As the market continues to grow and the technology continues to improve, there is no doubt that wind energy will become one of the primary energy sources of the western world in years to come.