Wind energy is renewable, clean and available all around the world. Though you need a large space to take advantage of this sustainable source of power, it is cost-effective and available in abundance.
For as long as planet Earth exists, we’ll have wind that we can harness for energy. The key to wind power is finding the places where that wind is strongest. A gentle breeze might not do very much, but large wind turbines in elevated locations can generate a lot of electricity.
Even with the costs of turbines factored in, wind power is very affordable. Read on to find out more about the advantages and disadvantages of wind energy.
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We use wind turbines to generate power. These are like large versions of the little pinwheels that you might have played with as a child. The wind pushes the turbine’s blades, causing the turbine to spin, and energy is harnessed from this movement.
Across the world, there are large wind farms, filled with dozens of turbines. These can go anywhere, from wide expanses of land to being out in the ocean where the sea breeze is often very strong. Some wind farms are large, with many turbines all working together, whilst others are significantly smaller.
Where only a small amount of power is needed, sometimes one wind turbine is enough. Occasionally, you’ll see just a few turbines dotted on a hillside somewhere.
By 2030, it’s thought that as much of a third of the UK’s energy could come from wind. Plans were announced in August 2020 to quadruple offshore wind power by the same year. By then, it’s hoped that most other energy can come from solar power.
The UK offers ample space for onshore and offshore wind turbines, meaning that we could stop relying on fossil fuels completely.
Wind energy is very cost-effective. In fact, it’s one of the most affordable renewable energies.
Wind turbines can also be placed almost anywhere, thanks to their small footprint. Turbines are tall but don’t take up much space on the ground. Landowners can still use their land for other things, with the turbine taking very little room.
In many places around the world, landowners like farmers are paid to have turbines on their land. They can still use the land around the turbine, so they’re losing very little, but their income is diversified.
Wind turbines are a clean, non-polluting source of energy. Once in operation, they don’t contaminate the air or the water around them. As they take up so little space, the land around them can continue to work as it always has done. The soil can still soak up the rainwater; animals can still live in the vicinity, and plants can still grow all around them.
The wind can be unpredictable. Though we know, it’ll always be there, in some locations it rises and falls very frequently. There can be times when the turbines don’t move because there isn’t enough wind to push them.
You also can’t always predict the wind direction, so you either need to angle turbines in every direction or build turbines that rotate to follow the direction of the wind. Harnessing the wind takes lots of planning, which means that wind turbines aren’t all that cheap to build in the first place.
The best locations for wind farms aren’t near towns and cities. Faster winds are found offshore or in open rural locations, high on top of hills. This means that a lot of infrastructures must be added, to transport any generated power to the homes and businesses it’s needed for. But this also has its advantages, since it means turbines aren’t intrusive and don’t require major redevelopments near urban centres to accommodate them.
If a good location can be found, and the winds are strong and constant, wind energy is very cost-effective. Unfortunately, locations that aren’t as good may turn out to be a waste of money. Wind turbines require ongoing maintenance, and it’s not always easy to maintain them when they’re in the middle of nowhere. Maintaining offshore turbines can be particularly tricky.
It’s also worth noting that wind turbines can make a lot of noise. Expect a whirring sound that can be heard when you’re nearby. Some people find the noise soothing, whilst others would consider it noise pollution and might struggle to live near a turbine. Likewise, some people think turbines ruin the natural look of the land.
Other forms of renewable energy, like geothermal and solar power, can be generated by small-scale equipment that can be installed in most homes. Wind energy is harder to harness on domestic properties, so isn’t really an option unless you have a lot of land in which to build a turbine. Of course, with turbines being so large, you’ll also have issues with planning permission to contend with.
A wind turbine should last about 20 years. During this time, the moving parts may need maintenance. After 20 years, it is usually more efficient to replace the entire turbine rather than continuing to maintain the existing one.
The average household will use 10 kWh of electricity per day. One wind turbine could power more than 300 homes, but even a small wind turbine is likely to cost more than £60,000 with the installation. This means that wind turbines are usually, at best, a community project and investment.
Small rooftop wind turbines have proven unpopular. Though you could install a rooftop turbine for as little as £2,000, it’s likely that you’d find that the costs and maintenance outweigh the savings and benefits.
Using batteries, it’s possible to store excess energy on-site. Rather than immediately exporting to the National Grid, landowners can store some of their excesses for times when they don’t generate as much. On days with a very little breeze, using power from the battery can remove the need to buy from elsewhere.
Another benefit of using a battery is that, if you have to buy energy from the grid, you can do so when the tariffs are lower and store it for use during the day.
Wind power is non-polluting. It’s sustainable and clean. This is a form of renewable energy that we’ll always have access to. Wind turbines need to be created, though, before they can be installed and used. Of course, there’s an environmental cost to building these turbines.
Once they’ve lived out their time on a hillside, there’s also the issue of disposing of these large objects built from plastics and metals.
Wind power brings one more problem. Turbines can be harmful to animals. Many birds have been killed by flying into the spinning blades of turbines, and this is something that must be considered when deciding where to site them. Some loss of birdlife must be expected, and areas with less common birds are a risk for this very reason.
Do you have land that could be used for wind turbines, or do you want another way to generate renewable energy? Why not read our other guides? We have articles about solar, wind and geothermal power, to help you decide if generating your own power could help reduce your energy bills.
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