If Americans have one phobia, it is the phobia of running out of fuel sources to power our cars, homes, and electronic devices. However, we often perceive the threat of scarcity incorrectly, as alternative energies can provide us with boundless fuel supplies. We have discussed alternative energy sources for decades, but nothing has materialized to wean our dependence from oil and coal. Alternative energy source such as the sun and wind can permanently alter the energy supply paradigm. So, why do we continue to grasp at energy straws by filling our cars with gas and heating our homes with electricity produced from coal-fired plants?
We stand mired in an energy quagmire because we think the federal government has all of the energy answers. If you have lived on this planet long enough, you unequivocally understand that the United State government, if anything, is a hindrance to developing alternative energy sources. We need to harness American ingenuity and work ethic to develop other energy sources that include wind power. The question remains, as it has for decades, is wind power a viable alternative energy option?
The Benefits of Wind Power
The debate over wind power has raged in statehouses throughout the country and inside the walls of the United States Congress. While the disadvantages of the alternative energy source receive much of the publicity, wind power advocates point to three critical benefits that wind power provides American citizens
Enhances the Environment
Wind power does not release contaminants into the air and water, and wind power does not contribute to the growing threat of global warming. The American Wind Association has released several statistics that demonstrate the healthy affect wind energy has on our ecosystem. Each megawatt of generated electricity causes over 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) and 7.5 pounds of sulfur oxide. The over 10 million megawatts of electricity generated by wind farms inside of the United States reduces CO2 emissions by 6.7 million tons. Moreover, as opposed to virtually every other type of electricity source, wind power does not consume water.
An Endless Supply of Power
Unlike finite fossil fuels that include oil and coal, wind energy has a limitless supply to power our nation’s homes and infrastructures. Wind does not require extraction from the Earth at an incredible environmental cost. Wind turbines strategically located to leverage the wind provide an inexhaustible supply of real energy. The endless supply of wind can lower our dependency on imported fuels, especially oil that comes from volatile regions such as the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Fossil fuels dramatically change in price due to several factors that include the supply disruptions created by political upheaval in unstable countries. Wind power can strengthen the security of America’s national energy sources. The development of wind farms produce high paying jobs in the construction and engineering fields. Rural landowners receive a decent revenue stream and since the farms take little space, farmers can optimize their land by planting more crops.
Why Wind Energy Doesn’t Make Sense
Although in an idyllic world wind power appears to represent the utopian version of energy, the facts suggest otherwise. Let us look at the disadvantages of using wind power to augment our energy supplies.
You do not have to a meteorologist to understand that wind is at best, unpredictable. Lack of wind can wreak the same amount of havoc caused by oil supply disruptions. The speed of the blowing wind must fall within a narrowly defined range to ensure the success of harnessing wind’s massive energy potential. Wind farm turbines must rotate at specified speeds, which mean the expensive to operate turbines fail when wind speeds are too fast or slow. Direction of the wind also plays a role in the success of wind farms. Areas of the country that experience wind from multiple directions do not perform well for operating wind farms.
Too Much Input Required to Produce Too Little Output
Wind possesses a low energy density that spreads over wide areas. To harness diffuse winds, the number of turbines used must cover an extremely large area. This causes the cost of developing a wind farm to be prohibitive for most investors. Wind farm turbines do not have the capability to extract one hundred percent of the energy delivered by blowing wind. In fact, wind farm research shows that the average turbine only extracts 59 percent of the energy bottled up in the blowing wind. Wind energy experts do not expect the efficiency rate to improve for wind power.
Developing a wind farm is a costly enterprise and until more energy derives from wind power, the high costs should keep alternative energy developers out of the wind power business.
Does Wind Farm Size Matter?
Wind power comes from both small-scale turbines and massive big wind farms. Which of the two layouts produces the most energy, without breaking the bank?
Small Wind Turbines
Small wind turbines generate power on a small scale, with some of the smaller turbines generating 50 watts to power boats and small refrigeration units. The diminutive turbines work best as residential power sources, since they typically span between 7 and 25 feet. You can find small wind turbines in urban areas because the units mount easily in the same manner as television antennas. Small wind turbines, albeit more efficient than the turbines found on large wind farms, cannot provide energy to densely populated areas.
Large Wind Farms
Large wind farms encompass a vast group of massive turbines located close together to produce abundant energy for widespread areas. A prototypical large wind farm includes hundreds of large turbines that span hundreds of square miles. For example, the Alta Wind Energy Center located in California has a capacity of nearly 1,020 megawatts. Some landowners use the land between the large turbines for agricultural purposes. Wind farms succumb to the inefficiency problem, which makes the farms difficult to manage.
Wind has captivated the imagination of scientists for years due to its potential to alleviate the energy phobia that has swept across America. Yet, wind power continues to present difficult, if not insurmountable obstacles, which make the alternative source of energy more of a pipe dream than a viable source to produce energy. Rapid technological advances may make wind power a vital part of our nation’s energy production. By harnessing the wind from the best places for large wind farms, such as coastal areas, the top of rounded hills, and vast, open plains, we may be able to reap the benefits of this clean source of unlimited energy.