The global wind energy industry is thriving and by the end of 2010, global capacity exceeded 70,000 megawatts, an enormous figure considering that only 1 megawatt is enough to power 250 American households, according to National Geographic Magazine. As of March 2011, America is the third largest global wind energy producer, and as uptake continues to increase, the pros and cons of this renewable source of energy are the focus of public debate.
The Best Things About Wind Power
It's clean, it's renewable and although some locations are more ideal than others, it's readily available in the U.S. Wind is a kind of solar energy and is caused by the combined effect of a sun-heated atmosphere, a rotating Earth and an uneven Earth surface. Wind power cuts costs significantly and the wind power industry is "one of the lowest-priced technologies available today", according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Advantages of Wind Turbines
Wind turbines are the means by which we harness the kinetic energy of the wind and turn it into mechanical power or electricity. The largest examples of turbines currently used in the U.S. have up to 260 feet tall towers with potential heights of 465 feet including the rotor blades. Big turbines are grouped together in a wind farm to provide power in large amounts to the electricity grid. The more electricity we are able to generate this way, the lower the cost to the planet, to the economy and to the consumer. Most good windy locations are rural, and so wind farms can benefit rural economies. Farmers and ranchers can rent their land to wind farm owners while still using most of the land as before because the turbines don't take up much room.
The Positives of Domestic Wind Turbines
Small turbines may also be used to generate electricity and systems are produced for the domestic market. Small wind turbines are essentially electricity generators for individual households, farms and small businesses. They can generate up to 100 kilowatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association, and can reduce domestic energy bills dramatically. Small wind systems are a source of clean renewable energy and also play a part in saving the planet.
Wind Turbine Negatives
The Department of Energy refers to wind turbine problems as "challenges," and has committed to ongoing research and development to eradicate them. Start-up cost is one of the biggest negatives and far exceed those of traditional fossil fuel power plants. Once built, however, the costs fall significantly. Another negative is the location of good wind farms. The remoteness of the best rural spots means they're often too far away from the cities they need to supply, and transmission lines are urgently needed. Another concern is the noise they make. In response to this, the American Wind Energy Association has stated that a wind farm more than 700 foot away "is no noisier than a kitchen refrigerator." Wind turbines also pose a threat to birds and bats and and local communities voice objections to how they look. Additionally, the complicated planning process for home turbine systems can be a barrier to installation.