Wind energy is a renewable, non-polluting resource with a lot of potential. Currently, the U.S. only uses about 4.1% wind energy so there is room for growth. As with anything, there are pros and cons to using wind energy, but the benefits make a compelling case for its use.
- Enormous Potential
According to several independent research teams, the worldwide potential of wind power is more than 400 TW (terawatts). To put that in perspective, in 2008 the global usage of power was about 16.5 TW of power. Wind energy creates more than enough power for the entire world to function.
- It’s Green
Wind energy counts as a green source because it doesn’t pollute the environment in the way that fossil fuels and nuclear power do. Although the manufacturing, transportation, and installation of the turbines generate pollution, this is on a much lower scale than current energy consumption.
Wind is a renewable resource, unlike certain fossil fuels. We can’t reasonably run out of wind because it is naturally occurring, although certain weather patterns can slow the production of energy, which we’ll discuss in the "con" section.
- There is Rapid Growth in the Field
The use of wind power is at a low percentage right now, but it is growing at approximately 25% each year. Not only does this help fight pollution and global warming, but it also helps lower the cost of installing turbines.
- Drop in Prices
As the concept of wind energy has grown, so has the demand for it. Since the 1980’s, prices have dropped over 80%. Although turbines are still considered an investment, especially for homeowners, technological advances have made it more affordable. The good news is that the industry expects prices to continue falling as it becomes a more viable solution. Turbines are a bit like personal computers in that when they first came out, only the top 1% could afford them. But, with demand for more affordable options and technological advancements, the personal computer became a staple in just about every household. Wind power is moving in a similar direction.
Wind turbines are quite large, and you can’t place them too close to one another because of the blades, even on a wind farm. But, the land between each can be used for other things. Farmers could plant crops or ranchers could house cattle. This is a benefit over solar panels because the panels take up ground space that could be used more efficiently.
- Low Operational Costs
Once you install a turbine, it doesn’t require a lot of maintenance in most cases. Keep in mind that low-end turbines bought at cheaper prices may require more upkeep, but in general, operational costs tend to be low. There are mechanical parts involved with a wind turbine, so owners should expect to replace those parts at some point in the future.
- Home Wind Power Potential
Another plus for wind power is that people can generate their own electricity in much the same way as people do with solar panels. In fact, the potential for generation of power on a hybrid wind power and solar panel setup could allow a family to live completely off-grid, not to mention the money it would save on the electric bills. Plus, if you had a wind turbine in your backyard, you wouldn’t have to worry about blackouts and fluctuating energy prices.
The biggest disadvantage of wind power is the unpredictable availability of wind energy. Even in the windiest parts of the country, it may not be windy every day. To combat this, wind energy can be stored in batteries; however, it is an extra expense up front, and the batteries have to be properly maintained and stored. You also lose a little energy as it transfers from the turbine generator to the battery, but as a renewable resource, that’s not much of an issue.
- Threat to Wildlife
Another factor to consider is the harm turbines cause to creatures that fly. There is little chance of survival if a bird collides with a rotating turbine blade. Studies estimate that the number of avian fatalities by U.S. wind turbines is up to 440,000 per year. Although that is a large number, the estimate for fatal collisions with buildings is up to 976 million per year. There is a danger to wildlife, yes. But, it is not as extreme as some activists have made it out to be.
A large piece of machinery that rotates with the wind is going to make noise, that’s a given. It can be a problem for people who live near turbine farms or neighbors of homeowners with one in their backyard. New designs show an improvement in the noise factor, but building wind turbines in urban areas should be avoided.
Turbines have a distinctive look and either you like them or you don’t. Although they have a significantly modern look compared to old-fashioned windmills, they can clash with the aesthetics of a property. Turbines built in urban areas can cause issues with homeowners associations who take the aesthetics of the neighborhood seriously. You should consider whether the addition of a turbine will add value to your home, or if you’re just fighting an uphill battle.
Although the cost of turbines is decreasing every year, they are still a hefty investment for many people, both commercially and residentially. It will take several years to break even from the upfront costs, and in some cases, that may not be worth it to homeowners.
At the end of the day, wind power promises more advantages than disadvantages. There are other possibilities, such as offshore wind farms, that will even help take some of the disadvantages off the table. The industry is moving in a direction that will help Americans sustain their energy needs without polluting the planet, and frankly, that is an advantage that ensures the environment for future generations. Those are the decisions we should make today.