Wind power is a form of renewable natural energy which is generated from wind. Wind has emerged as one of the widely used sources of energy in the modern world, owing to its nature as a virtually inexhaustible source of energy. Wind power simply involves the process of converting wind energy into mechanical or electrical energy using wind turbines.
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Even though the use of wind power has been there for many centuries, it has never gained much popularity across the world compared with other sources of energy such as hydropower and solar energy, which are widely used to generate electricity. This, however, appears to have changed in the current world where the capacity for wind power generation is observed to have risen to as much as 50 percent in a year.
As it would be observed, there are some obstacles that have restricted increased use of this reliable source of energy in most parts of the world. One common obstacle here is that wind farms are not just located anywhere, but in regions where large masses of moving air are present.
In this regard, some of the most strategic location points of wind farms would be along coastlines or on large tracts of land where there is constant supply of wind. In most cases, it would not be easy for people to devote these strategic areas to wind farms while there are other useful ways of utilizing them.
How Wind Power Works
Wind power involves the use of turbines, the modern equivalent of windmills, to convert wind energy into a more useful form of energy. The wind exerts force on the turbine blades causing it to propel. This pressure puts the turbine’s shaft into motion, thus causing it to spin at a speed of between 10 and 20 revolutions in a minute. The kinetic energy of the moving air is then turned into mechanical power by the rotor shaft.
The amount of energy generated from a wind turbine normally depends on a number of factors. These factors include, but are not limited to, the speed of wind, air density, and the overall area covered by the turbine blades.
For effective performance, wind turbines require a minimum wind speed of about 12-14 km/h and a maximum of 90 km/h. Strong winds of about 50-60 km/h are enough to generate wind power at full capacity. However, wind turbines must be stopped on levels where wind the speed exceeds 90 km/h to avoid damage.
Conversion of Mechanical Power to Electrical Energy
Mechanical energy can further be processed into electrical energy using electric generators that are connected to the turbine’s shaft. According to Joselin and others (2007), wind turbines operate just like windmills in almost all aspects. The process begins with the wind blowing on the blades of the rotor causing it to spin into revolutions.
These revolutions play a significant role in converting the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical energy. The strength of the revolutions and the direction from which the wind is blowing are then detected by sensors within the turbine’s shaft. The rotor then turns towards the wind direction from where it automatically controls the operations of the turbine.
The rotor is usually connected to a generator by the shaft and a gearbox. The generator would spin every time the rotor propels producing mechanical energy. This energy is then converted into electric energy by the generator using an inbuilt electromagnetic field.
As the process continues, the electrical energy is carried to a substation using cables, where it is combined to generate a high voltage. The final product of wind power is then transmitted through power lines into transformers. Here, the voltage is regulated into usable levels, before it is finally released for human consumption.
Advantages of Wind Energy
The use of wind power as a source of energy is associated with many benefits compared to other sources of energy. Following is a summary of some of the most common advantages of wind energy.
Wind Energy is Free, Pure and Renewable
One main advantage of wind energy over all the other forms of energy is that it is free, clean and renewable. This pure source of energy comes freely and can be acquired efficiently from just anywhere, since wind is widely distributed everywhere. Wind energy can be generated again and again, provided there is plenty and steady supply of moving air or wind.
This has the meaning that, no matter how much wind energy is consumed every time, people will always access the same supply of wind energy in the future. More importantly, unlike conventional power plants that are known to emit a variety of air polluting substances, wind power is a clean, non-polluting source of energy.
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Wind plants don’t emit air pollution or green gases, and it is this non-polluting nature that makes them environment-friendly (Jaramillo, Borja & Huacuz, 2004).
Cost of Production
As it would be observed, the production cost of wind energy has dropped steadily in the last one or so decades. The only bigger costs which investors in the energy sector are likely to incur as far as wind power is concerned would be through site preparation, machinery, and installation.
Moreover, wind turbines consume a small piece of land which means that the remaining space can be utilized for other useful purposes in life. When combined with other energy alternatives, wind energy can generate adequate energy supply for both domestic and commercial use in the society.
Creation of Jobs
Ranging from the installation of wind turbines to the maintenance of wind farms, wind energy offers many job opportunities for the people. However, a wide range of these opportunities are available for those people who live on hilly areas and around coastal areas where most wind farms are located.
Reduction of Fossil Fuel Consumption
Wind is a reliable source of energy which can serve as an alternative for petroleum and gas products, among other nonrenewable sources of energy thus helping to control air pollution. More importantly, effective and efficient use of wind energy can reduce human dependence on fossil fuels, and this helps to minimize the potential effects of global warming.
Variety of Wind Turbines
Wind turbines are produced in a range of types and sizes. What this means is that, many people and businesses can acquire them easily and use them to generate their own mechanical or electric energy without having to incur a lot of expenses (Chen, Guerrero & Blaabjerg, 2009).
Wind energy resources are usually put up in remote areas where wind is plenty. In that case, they serve as steady and significant revenue generators to rural land owners and the communities inhabiting those economically disadvantaged regions.
Moreover, land owners can supplement revenues on land use by other streams obtained through land leasing agreements between them and energy companies. Also, wind farms do play a key role in increasing the tax base for the rural communities.
Preservation of Natural Resources
Effective use of wind power by communities helps to preserve natural resources and non-renewable sources of energy. For instance, every time we use wind energy as an alternative source of energy, we end up saving a significant amount of coal, which is nonrenewable.
In this regard, manufacture of many wind farms across the world would play a significant role in eliminating burning of coal to produce energy. This will not only help to preserve resources, but it will also be an effective way of minimizing air pollution caused by many nonrenewable energy resources.
Disadvantages of Wind Power
There is a range of disadvantages of wind power and below is a summary of some of the common ones as they are observed from various regions across the world, where the idea of wind power has been implemented.
Wind Unreliability Factor
As it would be observed, the strength of wind is never constant, and therefore cannot be relied upon to generate steady mechanical and electric energy for human and industry consumption. Moreover, the nature of wind will tend to vary with seasons and weather patterns, and this would have the meaning that people will have to go without power sometimes, especially when there are no strong winds to drive the turbines.
The fact that wind power plants have no pollution effects to the air does not mean that they are 100 percent environment friendly. As a matter of fact, there are some concerns over the aesthetic impacts of wind turbines, the noise produced by rotating rotor blades, and birds being killed by the revolving rotors of the turbines.
There have been constant claims from the wildlife department that wind turbines have affected the lifestyles of migratory birds. More importantly, they have also contributed to high bird mortality in some regions. There have also been claims that, apart from slashing birds to death with the rotors, wind turbines can also cause explosion of bats’ lungs, thus leading to instant deaths of these nocturnal birds.
According to Pedersen and Waye (2004), there is also a possibility of high rates of sound and air pollution as wind turbines during the assembling of the turbines. Even though some of these concerns have been resolved using modern technological developments, there are still many environment issues associated with the generation of wind energy in most regions.
Supply and Transport Issues
Wind is known to be intermittent. This means that, moving air would not be available all the time to generate the required levels of electricity for human consumption. This is actually one of the major challenges associated with wind as a source of energy. Moreover, wind energy cannot be stored for future use, and this brings many complications to people who rely on it as their main source of energy.
Another common challenge here is that, not all types of winds can be used to meet the average electricity demands. On a further note, perfect wind sites are usually found in remote regions far from urban centers where the demands for electricity are very high.
Another possible supply issue linked with wind energy is that, development of wind resources is likely to compete with other land uses which may be more valuable compared with the idea of power generation.
Levels of Production/ Energy Density
Generally, wind turbines generate less electric energy compared to hydro power stations and other alternative energy sources that are driven by fossil fuels. In this regard, multiple wind turbines will be required in a single wind farm in order to generate a reasonable amount of energy that would bring a significant impact to the communities.
Petitions and Protests on Wind Farms
Many people in the current world are not used to wind power. This, however, explains the many protests and petitions that are raised to confront any wind farm development plans raised in the modern world, especially in the developing countries, where people are less informed of the diverse benefits associated with this source energy.
This strong opposition by environment conservationists and opponents of the wind power idea has been one of the many social issues that have continued to hinder the development of wind energy in most developing countries.
Preservation of the Natural Form
Large structures such as wind turbines usually don’t give a good picture of a place. As a matter of fact, many people, especially those who have the heart of preserving the environment, would tend to see these unsightly structures as spoilers of the landscape (Asif and Muneer, 2007).
For these reasons, they would tend to remain adamant in ensuring that the natural beauty of the landscape is strictly retained for the benefits of humans and animals.
The initial cost for installation of wind turbines and maintenance of the entire wind farm is usually very high. This has continued to serve as a major obstacle in the development of wind power as a reliable alternative to fossil fuels and other sources of energy.
Study has revealed wind energy as a threat to national security. It has been observed that wind farm resources penetrate the RADAR coverage, thus confusing the system. This happens as the turbine blades rotate at very high speeds causing holes in the RADAR system. Even though there are ways to mitigate this problem, the damage can turn out being too heavy for the communities by the time it is identified and resolved.
Relationship between Wind Power and the Environment
Wind power is less pollutant to the environment compared to other renewable and non-renewable energy sources. The extraction, supply and processing of natural gas, coal and fossil fuels to generate energy is likely to release pollutant substances to the atmosphere, thus bringing serious effects to living things and the environment.
Unlike other sources of energy which are known to emit high levels of pollution to the environment, wind power is a pure energy source that can’t be associated with any form of pollution or nuclear waste, since it does not utilize fossil fuel. This, however, does not imply there are no negative environmental impacts that are associated with the generation of wind power.
Even though wind is itself a pure source of energy, the process of converting the energy it generates to a useful form would require inclusion of energy which is in form of fossil fuel (Sahin, 2004). Moreover, the construction of wind farms requires removal of massive vegetation covers. One turbine, for instance, is said to require a clearance of about 3 to 5 acres of land.
This means that vegetation on a wider area of land will have to be cleared to pave way for large scale wind farms. This massive deforestation is likely to bear serious long-term effects on the environment. A good example here is erosion of the soil, which may necessitate other more serious harms to the environment.
Also, the constructions of wind farms at high altitudes to enable them gather more wind has come down with its own effects. As a result of this, many turbines have constantly failed owing to icing. This has often resulted to the application of de-icing substances on surfaces of the wind turbines as a way of combating the problem.
The de-icing fluid is a compound of ethylene-glycol and propylene-glycol, both of which are toxic chemicals. According to Venkataraman and Elango (1998), the hazardous de-icing fluid is likely to contaminate the environment around the wind turbines, thus creating unfavorable conditions for humans, wildlife, and fish.
The other common damage to the environment which may occur as a result of wind energy generation is the destruction of bat and bird populations as discussed in this paper.
Based on observations from previous wind power reports, wind turbines practically have adverse impacts on wildlife and birds. Based on these observations, the generation of wind power is not 100 percent friendly to the environment, unlike what many people across the world would tend to presume.
The Future of Wind Power
Regardless of the numerous disadvantages and environmental impacts associated with wind power, it is still the most preferable alternative of nonrenewable sources of energy in the modern world where plans to adopt renewable sources of energy are rapidly taking shape (Hosansky, 2011). This is evident in countries such as China and the U.S., where the use of wind power is observed to be increasing at an overwhelming rate.
Improvements on technological approaches and better generation ways have led to a steady decline of the overall cost of wind power over the last ten years. This, really, is another reason which is likely to see the use of wind power across the world increase abundantly in the near future.
As it is observed in this report, wind energy, though a controversial matter when it comes to the extent by which it is friendly to the environment, is still one of the fastest-growing renewable sources of energy across the world. Wind power, just like any other source of energy, comprises of both benefits and disadvantages, all of which seem to have a significant impact on this renewable source of energy.
Wind power is not hundred percent friendly to the environment as it is observed in this paper, where a number of arguments have been highlighted to support the claim.
However, as a pure, renewable source of energy having minimal effects on the environment, wind power is the most appropriate source of energy that can be used to replace nonrenewable sources of energy such fossil fuel and coal, which are known to have immense impacts on the environment.
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