In today’s world, there seems to be a growing focus on practices that are sustainable and respectful of the environment. This includes turning to forms renewable energy as alternatives to fossil fuels. One of the most well-known and visible examples of a sustainable energy source is wind power. If you’ve ever been on a road trip and seen fields full of massive wind turbines turning in the wind, chances are you were seeing wind power at work.
What Is Wind Power and How Is It Used?
Wind power is a form of renewable energy that harnesses naturally occurring air flow in the atmosphere to create energy. This usually occurs when wind turns the blades on a wind turbine and, in turn, creates electricity.
There are different sizes and types of wind turbines, but the process that generates electricity is the same for each of them. When the wind blows, its kinetic energy is harnessed by the blades to the turbine and converted into mechanical power. This mechanical power is then used to spin a shaft connected to a generator that makes electricity.
Though it may seem cutting-edge, capturing the power of the wind is far from being new technology. There are examples of civilizations harnessing the power of the wind dating back as far as 5000 B.C.E. The ancient Egyptians used the wind to guide their boats on the Nile. Throughout the centuries, people have used windmills to pump water and grind grains. The first records of wind turbines being used to generate electricity can be traced back to the 19th century.
In 1887, a professor by the name of James Blyth constructed a small wind turbine in the garden of his vacation cottage in Scotland. Constructed with cloth sails and measuring 10 meters tall, Blyth’s turbine used wind power to charge accumulators and provide electricity for the small cottage — the first building in history to be powered by wind energy. Not only was Blyth able to power his own home, but his small turbine produced enough electricity that he was able to share power with his neighbors. Soon enough, wind turbines were being used to generate electricity all over the world, from the United States to Denmark. In the 20th century, its use became more widespread and even began to compete with traditional fossil fuels like oil.
Though we now know much more about wind technology as an alternative energy resource, today wind power makes up just a fraction of the world’s power generation capacity and actual power generation. This number is on the rise, though. In 2015, 4 percent of the world’s electricity was generated by wind power technology, but some countries had individual percentages reaching as high as 42 percent. These numbers are expected to continue to grow in the coming years.
Wind Power Pros
Why is wind power becoming such a big player in world energy markets? What are the pros of using wind power instead of traditional fossil fuels, such as oil? First and foremost, wind is a sustainable and renewable source of energy. It is considered sustainable because it is a source of energy that has a lower negative environmental impact than its non-
sustainable counterparts and is used at a rate that is minimal when compared to its supply. This means that as long as there is wind, it can be harnessed to create clean energy that will not pollute the air with the harmful atmospheric emissions. It is considered renewable because it uses a resource that is naturally replenished. Every day when the sun shines and heats the earth’s atmosphere, wind is generated anew.
Aside from its environmental benefits, wind energy makes sense economically. Using wind to generate electricity is very cost-effective because the fuel, wind, is free and will never be subject to price uncertainty. It will always have a consistent, low price.
Using this source or energy can also generate jobs and income. Farmers or landowners in rural areas can allow the construction of wind turbines on their land to gain extra income in the form of rent payments from wind power plants, while still being able to use the land. Additionally, with more and more wind turbines being used to generate electricity, there are an ever-growing number of positions available in turbine manufacturing, maintenance, and installation.
Wind Power Cons
Wind power offers a huge number of benefits when compared to traditional fossil fuels. However, it is not without its drawbacks.One of the most significant is its initial cost. While, in the long run, wind power is extremely cost-effective and far less expensive than fossil fuels, its initial implementation can be costly.
The technology needed to generate and use electricity from wind power, turbines and transmission lines, can cost more than the technology for fossil fuels. Furthermore, active wind sites that are good for turbines are often in rural or remote areas. This means it is necessary to construct longer transmission lines to transport the generated electricity to cities.
In addition to cost, there are often concerns surrounding the turbines themselves. For example, questions have been raised about the impact turbines may have on surrounding wildlife. With older, less advanced turbine models, there have been reported cases of birds flying into the spinning blades. Furthermore, while it is true that wind power does not create any physical pollution, turbines can cause other worries. Wind turbines can be quite large and some argue that their presence ruins the visual appeal of rural landscapes, and the blades may cause bothersome noise.
What Does Wind Power Mean for You?
Though wind power has some downfalls associated with it, its future looks bright. As climate change becomes a larger and more visible issue, people are turning towards environmentally friendly energy alternatives to try and enact change. The global growth rate of wind power usage was over 17 percent in 2014 and continues to rise steadily.
As its popularity rises, the technology behind wind power continues to advance and become more effective to keep up with demand. Innovative ideas such as horizontal-axis turbines and offshore wind farms have been gaining traction and mitigating problems related to noise and aesthetic pollution. Some experts estimate that by 2030 wind power could account for more than 12 percent of the world’s total power generation.
What does this increase mean for consumers? On one hand, a large shift towards wind power as an alternative energy source could mean lower and more stable electricity costs for consumers. Though wind energy is more expensive when it comes to initial investments, once established, it is a cost-efficient power source. A shift toward wind power could also mean lower rates of environmental pollution, though a possible increase in aesthetic and noise pollution.
How Can You Get Involved?
Even with steps being made toward a more widespread usage of wind power, this technology has a ways to go before it becomes standard in the power industry. Fortunately, everyday citizens can help. You may be asking yourself how you can help further wind power.
One way is through organizations such as the American Wind Energy Association, which are actively working to educate the public and politicians about wind as an alternative energy source. The AWEA allows and encourages members of the public to join its advocacy network, the Power of Wind, to stay updated on legislative issues surrounding wind energy and push politicians to support policies that promote wind energy.
Academic institutions such as the University of Massachusetts also have programs to promote wind power research and education. The University of Massachusetts Wind Energy Center accepts financial contributions to support specific research and engineering endeavors, as well as forges partnerships with organizations to develop software and equipment that can further the advancement of wind power.
These are a few ways to get involved, but there are many more opportunities available. It is worth checking with local universities and environmental organizations to see if they have advocacy programs in place or other ways to contribute.
It is also possible to do your part without joining an official organization. Check with power companies to see if you can switch to wind power as your energy source. This may be confusing, but you will not necessarily be powering your individual home with wind power when you make this switch. Power grids combine all kinds of sources of energy, from solar power to natural gas, so instead, you will most likely be balancing the mix of renewable and non-renewable energy sources that are used on the particular grid that powers your home.
A company that sells renewable power, like wind power, purchases renewable energy certificates equivalent to your power consumption and places them on your grid. Essentially, changing over can reduce the disparity between renewable and nonrenewable sources being used in your region.
There is so much to learn when it comes to renewable energy and alternative fuel sources, because the technology behind them is changing and developing every day. The best way to stay up to date with what is new in the industry and ways you can further its advancement is to do your research. Find out if there are programs similar to the AWEA near you. Research what percentage of power in your state or county is generated by wind power. Investigate which power companies in your area support wind power and renewable energy certificates.
Wind power is part of the future of a clean-energy world. The best way to help bring about this change is to stay informed and to get involved.