Pros and cons of wind energy

Wind farms seek to offer an environmentally sustainable source of energy that will help reduce our dependence on non-renewal fossil fuels. However, this clean and safe source of energy is controversial with many opposed to their use, often on grounds of aesthetics or lack of efficiency. This looks at pros and cons of wind farms.

Wind Farm Ripponden

Eyesore or the way forward for providing clean energy?

Pros of wind energy

  1. Creates virtually no pollution which damages environment, wildlife and humans. (very limited negative externalities)
  2. Some feel wind farms are actually aesthetically pleasing and help to enhance a local area. In 17th Century, the UK had 90,000 windmills (Guardian) (subjective opinion)
  3. Wind energy is completely renewable. There is no danger of running out of wind. Fossil fuels, by contrast, are limited and will eventually run out. As they do, we need to increasingly rely on renewable energy,such as wind.
  4. Wind energy does not have hidden dangers such as nuclear fuel and does not contribute to global warming.
  5. Wind is available across the world. Oil is concentrated in certain areas of the world, creating Geo-political tensions for control and purchase of oil. Wind is a renewable source that nearly all countries can tap into.
  6. In recent years, the efficiency of wind turbines has increased, enabling improved electricity generation.
  7. Wind energy can be good use of certain barren environments which are too rocky or hilly for agriculture. Often the best places for wind energy is on high land, which is less desirable for housing. La

Cons of wind energy

  1. Local residents often object to the position of wind farms arguing it spoils the view. (this opposition is greater when placed in areas of outstanding natural beauty)
  2. Some complain at persistent underlying noise that wind farms generate.
  3. Too little electricity. Critics argue wind farms contribute only a small fraction of a nations total energy supply, therefore it only gives a limited contribution to total power output
  4. Wind energy is not constant. With a traditional power station (nuclear / coal) you can keep a constant power output, but wind is dependent on the weather. In a period of still wind, power output can fall to nothing. This means the national grid cannot rely on wind, but has to have back up energy sources.
  5. More expensive to produce electricity. Wind power sometimes needs to be subsidised because it is currently more expensive than conventional energy production. However, this may be changing, e.g. China is considering building more wind power as it is potentially more efficient

Evaluation

  1. It depends where they are located, e.g. few people object to placing wind farms off shore, but would if placed in the Peak District.
  2. Conventional energy is currently cheaper. However, with oil and coal running out, conventional sources of energy are likely to become more expensive over time. Therefore, it makes sense for the government to subsidise the production of wind energy and this will help develop more efficient wind power for when the price of other energy sources are much higher.
  3. Renewable energy state that the cost of wind energy on large efficient farms is 3-4 pence per unit. This compares well with coal (2.5p – 4.5p) and nuclear power (4-7p) Wind power
  4. External costs associated with conventional energy (burning coal, nuclear power) are potentially very high. Therefore, the social cost of non-renewable energy is much higher than private cost. To increase social efficiency, it makes sense to tax coal power (e.g. see: carbon tax) and use funds to subsidise energy needs with renewable sources like wind.

Personal opinion

I like seeing wind farms. I think a windmill is an attractive object which can enhance bleak moors. I don’t think they should be placed everywhere, but, I do support the expansion of wind and other renewable energy sources through taxing those fuels which create pollution.

Last year I arrived in Vienna airport and driving to the Czech Republic, I was struck by the ranks of wind turbines by the side of the motorway. Some people look upon them as a visual eye-sore, but I really like them. I think they are quite attractive, but also like seeing them because I feel it is creating the energy we need without damaging the environment.

What do you think?

7 thoughts on “Pros and cons of wind energy”

  1. It’s wrong to claim that wind energy is more expensive than conventional energy.

    Please see this table on levelised costs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source

    You’ll see that onshore wind is already cheaper than
    nuclear and carbon capture coal and on a par with conventional coal.

    Moreover, whilst the levelised costs are based on 20 or 25 year analysis, the reality is I believe that wind turbines will be operational for much longer, delivering very cheap energy. I think about 40% of the cost of a turbine relates to the foundations, tower and laying of lines.

    Reply
  2. You may believe that wind turbines enhances the visuals of “bleak moorland” but many outdoor enthusiasts would strongly disagree.

    To fulfil a meaningful amount of our power needs would mean a huge sacrifice in terms of rural land. I give some figures here: http://blogpackinglight.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/land-sacrifice/

    The other problem with wind turbines is that they don’t supply power when it’s most needed i.e. in a winter freeze caused by a high pressure system (no winds) covering northern Europe like last winter. This means that conventional has to be maintained to cover energy requirements.

    All in all wind power is an expensive and inefficient way of supplying energy. Solar power may become viable soon with advances in solar panel technology.

    Reply
  3. Daniel,

    I’m afraid Wikipedia is misleading. Have a read of this submission to the Economic Affairs Committee in Parliament. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldselect/ldeconaf/195/195we52.htm
    You can see that wind power is more expensive.

    The load capacity quoted on Wikipedia (34%) is much higher than has been achieved recently in Scotland (the average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive, source:JMT).

    Sorry, wind power is a lot less efficient than its supporters claim.

    Also it causes a lot of pollution through the mining of Rare Earth materials (from China) and the network of roads and cables on moorland is highly destructive to the natural habitat, destroying substantial amounts of moorland, which is a natural CO2 sink.

    Reply
  4. It’s not Wikipedia’s figures – it’s the American Department for Energy.

    The figure given for the cost of nuclear by the Parliamentary committee is laughable. The nuclear industry has been secretly subsidised for years. Even Mrs Thatcher when she discovered what had been going on (and that as a result the nuclear industry could not be privatised). What is being quoted there is a subsidised figure. Look at how much the new generation Finnish reactor has cost -5.6billion Euros about 4 Euros per watt – a huge cost.

    And of course that is for a reactor that the private sector can’t insure. Who is going to carry the cost of the Japanese nuclear disaster ($9 billion to replace the lost capacity – probably about £20billion in lost production and compensation payments – and substantial ongoing costs into the future)? It will be the taxpayer.

    The JMT study (funded by a landscape protection society) you quote is highly misleading as it only looks at onshore wind facilities in Scotland. Everyone knows that OFFshore facilities are far more productive. Average them out and you will get something close to the Wikipedia figure, depending on where you are in the globe.

    The type of pollution you talk about is a feature of all energy systems.

    Wind energy is competitive and clean. It delivers energy independence and good employment levels.

    Nuclear is finished. Wind energy is going to be an important part of our energy future along with solar, wave, geothermal, tidal and new hydro.

    Reply
  5. There’s an awful lot of development related to the energy industry that is an eyesore. Mostly more obtrusive than pylons. In my own area there is a power station in the Ironbridge Gorge, which other wise is a beautiful area.

    The interesting possibility that arises with wind power (and solar power) is that of micro-generation and local and community grids that can resolve at least some of the wastage involved in the distribution of electricity through the National Grid.

    This can change around the current status quo of electricity being generated in rural or semi-rural areas and consumed in urban areas.

    It can also start local communities thinking and acting locally to bring a vibrant and robust local economy into existence with money circulating within rather than shooting off to a foreign-owned energy provider.

    Reply
  6. Pingback: Cons Of Wind Farms | Wind And Solar

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