The renewable and nonrenewable energy debate has been raging longer than most of our lifetimes. Everyone alive today was born in a world that had already discovered oil and thus the dependence on oil and coal has been inherent. At the same time, we all know how important it is to shift our reliance from nonrenewable energy to renewable energy.
Wind energy has been around for a long time but it has not been explored as much as one would have liked. Wind energy is certainly one of the ways forward since fossil fuels, oil and coal will dry up someday.
Before delving into the wind energy pros and cons, let us drop a few words on what it is. While most people refer to it as wind energy, it is actually a form of solar energy. It is the sun that heats the earth’s surface unevenly and that causes some areas to have hotter air and some areas to have cooler air. The hot air rises and the cool air takes its place and this cycle continues. Wind energy can thus be referred to as a derivative of solar power.
Wind Energy Pros
1. Wind energy is renewable. We cannot run out of this energy and that is a great advantage. But more importantly, wind energy doesn’t threaten our world, us or our environment. If you look at all the nonrenewable energy sources, they all have some degree of threat to our world. Even with some renewable sources such as natural gas, there are some threats. With solar and wind energy, there are no threats. Hydropower, which is renewable and environment friendly do have some limitations since the dams may threaten the ecology in a given region. Developing large dams, harnessing water power by holding up the downward flow of rivers at high altitudes and then burdening the areas around the dam can be a huge ecological threat. With wind energy, such challenges don’t exist. Generating wind energy is safe and there are no environmental concerns. If the entire world was to switch to wind energy immediately, then the carbon emissions, greenhouse gases and depleting water reserves; all such problems would be resolved straightaway.
2. Wind energy has enough potential to meet all our power requirements and then a lot more. According to many studies and researches, the potential of wind energy if harnessed across the world is about 400 TW (terawatts).
3. Wind energy doesn’t require a lot of space to be harnessed. Many critics state that the large wind turbines take up a lot of space and that the wind parks or farms have to be massive in size. While the turbines are large and they cannot be placed close to each other, that is not necessarily a disadvantage. The turbines are only space consuming at a height. The bases are considerably smaller. The total area that a wind park or farm takes doesn’t go to waste. All the land between the turbines can be used for various purposes. From farming to cattle grazing, the land can be utilized. In effect, wind energy is space efficient. One can debate that generating solar energy would require a lot of space but then again the same argument can apply that underneath the solar panels, one can use the entire space for a plethora of purposes.
4. The wind energy industry is growing at a healthy annual rate of 25%. For many, that growth rate would be astounding but the reality is that the growth has come considerably late. The wind energy industry should have developed much faster much earlier but for many reasons that did not happen. With the encouraging growth rate, the world is poised to get more wind energy. The other distinct advantage is that the cost of wind energy is decreasing. Obviously operational costs have gone down, the technology of turbines has improved and we have gotten better at harnessing the power of the wind. Besides, due to global warming and environmental concerns, there is less resistance from landowners for wind farms and governments across the world are encouraging and also incentivizing companies that would set up such farms and start distributing electricity generated from wind energy.
5. Wind energy can be generated almost anywhere, although the financial investments would have to be feasible. Wind energy can also be generated offshore, which would save land or space and the problems of noise pollution would also be done away with. However, that possibility may be a while away from being realized.
Wind Energy Cons
1. The most concerning disadvantage of wind energy is that it is unpredictable. One area may encounter strong winds one day and that can generate considerable power and the next few days can be extremely quiet. Winds cannot be predicted accurately. This poses a very daunting challenge. The investment required to set up wind turbines is huge. Thus, a company or government would only be interested in areas that have a long history of experiencing strong winds throughout the year. This limits the possibilities of setting up wind farms. No company or government can install wind turbines if it generates power unpredictably or only a few days every month. Also, the initial investment would always limit the growth of wind farms and thus availability of wind energy.
2. Another unfortunate consequence of wind turbines is the threat to birds and other flying creatures. This is not a very grave concern because it has been seen that once wind farms are set up, fewer birds traverse that area over time. This issue is often blown up which is unnecessary.
3. Generating wind energy is a noisy exercise. The turbines make a lot of sound. Wind being trapped or harnessed also makes a lot of noise. People living in and around the areas where wind turbines are installed may not enjoy a good night’s sleep or a quiet day. However, new wind turbines are being developed that make much less noise.