Ancient civilizations harnessed the wind to power windmills for pumping water and grinding grain. In modern times, sleek wind turbines offer a clean and renewable source of electricity. Wind energy can be found almost anywhere and it does not cause toxic pollution. However, it does have some drawbacks that will need to be addressed before we can use wind as a main power source.
What Are Wind Turbines?
Like the wooden windmills of Holland, metal wind turbines use wind energy. Instead of grinding grain, though, modern turbines use wind energy to produce electricity. Most turbines are constructed of a tall, thin tower that is almost twice the height of an average telephone pole. Fan-like propeller blades at the top of the turbine, similar to those on a propeller plane, move with the air current. The turbine's blades are connected to a generator or engine inside the tower. As the blades are pushed by the wind, they in turn crank a generator, creating power. To create more power, wind turbines are erected in rows or groups called wind farms. A wind farm can be connected to the electrical grid and can send electricity to the local power plant or directly to nearby homes and buildings.
Environmental Impact on People and Wildlife
Tall wind turbines that rise out of the horizon can be seen for long distances and may be considered an eyesore. The visual impact can be made worse for people that live close to wind farms as some wind turbines generate a great deal of noise due to their turning blades. Additionally, although wind power is a clean and renewable form of energy, it can adversely affect local wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that almost 440,000 birds can be killed by wind turbines in a single year. Birds and bats are killed by colliding with or being sucked into the turning blades of a turbine. In other cases, wind turbines have been placed in or close to breeding grounds of fish and birds, such as the sage-grouse, frightening them away.
Wind Power Costs
Like other renewable energy sources, wind power is expensive because the necessary equipment is not widely available. Costs include the land, equipment and specialized maintenance by a wind turbine engineer. Even a single wind turbine for a home may take between six to 30 years to offer a return on the investment. This depends on the cost of electricity, how much electricity the turbine can generate and other factors. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, in the U.S. the wind turbine industry would require almost 30,000 manufacturing jobs to produce enough wind power to meet 20 percent of the country's energy needs. While creating jobs is good for the economy in the long run, this would require a large initial investment by corporations or the government. Hence, wind power may not be able to compete with conventional sources of energy on a total cost basis. Users will likely choose a more affordable form of energy, rather than one that is better for the environment.
Wind Power Is Dependent On Nature
Wind farms must be located in areas that have steady, strong winds. These include flat fields and other areas where air currents are not obstructed by tall buildings, trees or mountains. Off-shore wind farms capture winds pushed over ocean waters; however, even these locations do not have constant or consistent winds. Wind speeds and patterns are affected by season, climate and temperature and may change at different times of the day. As a result, wind energy is not a reliable source of power and cannot meet all demands for electricity. In most cases, wind farms are only able to generate sufficient power for nearby buildings and structures. Hence, a number of wind farms and sufficient wind would be needed to power a large town or city.
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