As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.
This is our guide on the Pros & Cons Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms.
Summary – Pros & Cons Of Wind Energy, Wind Turbines & Wind Farms
- Is renewable and sustainable (unlike fossil fuels)
- Is clean energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases during operation
- There is no re-fuelling that needs to take place once wind farms are set up (unlike coal plants for example)
- Wind farms are generally simpler and less costly to maintain once in operation compared to coal plants and nuclear plants
- Wind energy is getting cheaper for consumers in some countries (as the technology and cost to produce wind farms gets cheaper)
- Wind electricity prices for consumers can be more stable than fossil fuel electricity prices which can fluctuate
- Doesn’t take up as much space and land as solar panels
- Allows energy independence for individuals
- Allows people to disconnect from the energy grid
- Power output is OK
- Good to use on homes
- Good to use rurally
- Wind farms can be set up with as many or as few wind turbines as desired, and the projects can be run in stages, unlike coal plants or nuclear plants that have to be built all at once
- Wind energy is showing rapid growth in some parts of the world (like the MidWest in the US)
- Large scale wind is usually distributed across a wide geographical area, and modular with several individual panel or panel farms. This creates less chance of damage to equipment or disruption to electricity supply in the case of extreme weather or a natural event in one area, compared to a fossil fuel plant that has one power plant in one spot
- Power density and power per unit is not as good as coal or nuclear in a lot of instances
- More of a supplementary power source for many cities as this stage – not yet suitable for largest scale power production
- Not yet as cost efficient as solar (there’s more investment in development of solar at the moment)
- Can be intermittent and an unpredictable energy sources (as it requires consistent wind to produce energy)
- Not good in places with little wind
- Not as portable as solar energy
- Can have heavy upfront cost for larger scale wind farms
- Time to break even from upfront costs can be 10, 20 or more years
- Can be noisy if you live near a wind farm
- Wind farms can sometimes be a hazard for flying wildlife
- Aesthetics – wind farms tend not to look great
- Demand for wind energy can be sensitive to fossil fuel prices
- Demand for wind energy may decrease when tax credits stop in some countries or regions
- Wind requires more construction materials than nuclear
Wind energy probably sits just behind solar as one of our best options as a long-term energy sources that is clean and renewable. It’s a smaller scale or supplementary energy source at this stage in most cases. With more development in technology, the potential can keep growing. One drawback is that it relies on wind – and not every location is as windy as others.
*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.
What Is Wind Energy/Power?
Wind power is the generation of electricity by using air flow to spin wind turbines, then converting the mechanical energy into electrical.
Pros Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms
- Is Renewable & Sustainable – wind is actually a form of solar energy. Winds are created by a combination of uneven surfaces of the Earth, the Earth’s rotation on its axis, and imbalanced heating of the sun across our atmosphere. This means that for at least the next 5 billion years, we won’t run out of it.
- Is Clean Energy – does not produce Greenhouse Gases while in use unlike coal, gas, and oil. Manufacture and installation of wind turbines does, but this is minimal compared to other energy sources. These set up GHGs are expected to be recouped within 9 months of clean operation in most cases. Wind energy produces about the same greenhouse gas emissions as nuclear (dailymaverick.co.za)
- Fuel Is Free – once a wind turbine is set up, there is no fueling or refueling process that needs to take place unlike a coal power plant for example.
- Running Costs Of Wind Turbines Are Relatively Low– after manufacture and install, a wind turbine requires little to maintain unlike a coal or nuclear plant.
- Wind Energy Is Getting Cheaper For Consumers – cost to produce is gradually decreasing as demand increases and technology gets better. Since 1980, wind energy prices have decreased more than 80%. This is due to the vast amounts of research paying dividends as new and improved technology, in addition to demand for wind power consistently increasing. Future trends are expected to be the same.
- Electricity Price Stability – fossil fuel prices can fluctuate heavily in response to world fossil fuel events and the market. Renewable energy can be much more stable because of stable operating costs. (ucsusa.org)
- Doesn’t Take Up Heaps Of Space Or Land – whilst wind turbines and farms do take up land, they don’t take up as much land or real estate as solar panels. The space in between wind turbines can be used for other things.
- Energy Independent – wind energy can be produced most places in the world. It doesn’t have to be connected to a power grid. You also don’t have to rely on utility companies for electricity.
- Decent Power Output – one large wind turbine, on average, has the capacity to generate enough electricity to power 600 U.S. homes.
- Good Potential For Homes – In addition to be an independent energy source, wind energy gives individuals access to net metering which basically provides credit to electricity bills for any excess power generated in a given month. You actually get paid for extra energy production
- Can Be Used Rurally – like solar energy, because wind energy is an independent energy source and doesn’t rely on a power grid, it has good rural use application.
- Wind Energy Is Showing Rapid Growth In Some Regions – the Midwest that are moving away from heavy reliance on coal and have seen rapid growth in wind energy (insideclimatenews.org)
- Distribution & Modular Set Up – Wind generators are usually distributed across a wide geographical area, and modular with several individual wind generators or wind farms. This creates less chance of damage to equipment or disruption to electricity supply in the case of extreme weather or a natural event in one area, compared to a fossil fuel plant that has one power plant in one spot. Hurricane Sandy has this impact (power loss and damage) on fossil fuel plants in New York and New Jersey, but not as much on renewable energy projects (ucsusa.org)
– renewableresourcescoalition.org, insideclimatenews.org, ucsusa.org
Cons Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms
- Loses To Solar In Some Aspects – loses to solar for cost and aesthetic purposes. Also, companies like Tesla are pouring a lot of time and money into developing solar technology, and countries like Germany (a solar leader) are too.
- Can Be Intermittent, & Unpredictable – Wind energy can be unpredictable, as wind and wind speeds often rise and fall in general and in different locations. This is unlike solar where at least you know where the sun rises and falls. Although wind can produce energy at night (unlike solar), it isn’t enough to offset it’s unpredictability.
- Heavy Upfront Costs – Larger-scale wind farms and residential turbines are very costly, and fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, currently produce electricity at a rather low rate, which makes it hard for wind to compete in the short term.
- Take Time To Break Even In Terms Of Cost – it takes anywhere from 10 to 20 years before a wind turbine breaks even.
- Noise Pollution – turbines and farms create noise pollution that other energy sources, such as solar, don’t. But some technology is making noise less of an issue as time goes on.
- Difficult To Live Near Large Scale Wind Farms – because of the noise pollution.
- Biological/Environmental Impact – once installed, wind turbines present a safety hazard to flying creatures such as birds that might fly into them. There isn’t this problem with solar.
- Aesthetics – especially in residential cases, there seems to be more people who prefer the look of solar panels in and around their homes than windmills and wind turbines.
- Demand for wind energy can be sensitive to fossil fuel prices – wind energy outlook is highly sensitive to natural gas prices, with wind becoming less competitive when gas prices are low [in the US] (insideclimatenews.org)
- Demand for wind energy might decrease when there are is no tax credit support – some experts support this view, whilst others don’t (insideclimatenews.org)
- Wind requires more construction material than nuclear – Solar requires 18 times, and wind 11 times, the construction materials of nuclear.
– renewableresourcescoalition.org, insideclimatenews.org, dailymaverick.co.za