The exploitation of nonrenewable energy sources by the global population, notably by modern technological societies, has contributed to hostile political, economical, and environmental climates. The most notable nonrenewable energy sources, fossil fuels, which includes the burning of coal, petroleum, and natural gas, has induced concern of global warming, soaring oil prices, national energy security, and is depriving the earth of natural resources (Conner 130). Knowing the detrimental effects of burning fossil fuels, and that fossil fuels are a limited, nonrenewable source, prompts the exploration and use of clean (limited harmful emissions) and renewable energy sources. One solution to the energy crisis is the implementation of wind energy to harvest wind currents to convert kinetic energy to mechanical energy (Etherington 15). Improvements in wind energy technology over the last thirty years have made wind energy an efficient and credible source of renewable energy.
Advantages and improvements to wind energy include the advances in wind turbine technology, increased number of turbine manufacturers around the world, capital costs plummeting, zero emissions, and self-sufficiency (Thresher, Robinson, and Veers 340). The efficiency of wind energy and its significance for the future has been studied by several researchers, one example being the United States Department of Energy projecting 20% of the nation's electricity could be powered by wind energy in 2030 (Conner 130). The use of wind energy has positive implications for the environment, economy, and political tensions, but is also met with opposition. The arguments against wind energy question its initial investment requirements, avian mortality, and even the noise level produced by wind turbines ("HealthLink"). Despite the opposing argument, wind energy remains a clean energy source that is renewable, economical, in abundance, has limited harmful byproducts, and will reduce fossil fuel dependency to make wind power one of the most realistic and valuable energy alternatives.
Historically, wind energy is not a new concept. Over the past 3,000 years wind energy was used to grind grain and pump water, and this same concept has been given new relevance with modern industrialization to convert wind into a power source (Burton 1). The first oil price shock in the early 1970s gave new interest into wind energy technology. The last three decades have been a testament to the growing investment in wind energy, with wind energy being the fastest growing energy technology in the 1990s. By 2002, 70% of worldwide wind energy capacities were installed in Europe, 19% in North America, and 10% in Asian and the Pacific (Kaygusuz 96). The installation of wind energy practices is vital to reduce fossil fuel dependency, and have noted environmental, economic, and other benefits.
The environmental benefits of wind energy arise primarily from the reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Combustion engines and other forms of burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil cause the emissions of pollutants. Gaseous emissions including carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur contribute to the greenhouse effect and ultimately contribute to global warming. Wind energy does not emit CO2 and therefore does not enhance the greenhouse gas effect (Kaygusuz 102). The majority of fossil fuel generating stations emits sulfur and nitrogenous byproducts which add to the acid rain effect that is also responsible for severe environmental damage. The use of wind power has zero emissions. The lack of gaseous emissions, particles, trace metals, solid waste, acid rain, and pollution are all positive environmental factors supporting the use of wind energy ("HealthLink").
Although the use of wind itself does not create harmful emissions, the same is not true for the production of wind turbines and the generation of the plant for the power system to which the wind farm is connected. The consequent emissions from manufacturing the wind turbine plant do not outweigh the lifetime benefits of using wind energy as a power source. The emissions caused during the manufacturing process would be offset after only a few months of emission-free wind power operation, and the energy expended to manufacture a wind turbine is regained after one year's operation (Kaygusuz 103). The emissions associated with the initial assembly of the wind power system are insignificant when compared to the years of clean, renewable energy given in return.
The environmental argument against wind energy includes visual impact, land use, intrusion on local ecology, noise, and avian mortality. The visual disturbance of wind turbines is a common point made against wind energy as the sites that experience the highest winds are often some of the most beautiful landscapes that are typically free of human intrusion (Kaygusuz 103). In most cases this visual impact can be addressed by certain design factors, such as size, wind farm configuration, and landscape backgrounds to reduce lines of sight. In terms of the global environment being in jeopardy as a result of burning fossil fuels, the hesitation for wind power due to aesthetic reasons is not the most compelling argument. Another environmental concern is the use of land by the wind farms. Wind turbines are spread over a large area to capture the wind currents. Although the wind farm consists of a large land area, a modern wind farm uses 1% of total land area it occupies, with wind turbines occupying only 0.2% of the land area (Kaygusuz 103). A solution to the excess of un-used land by the wind farm is to cultivate the remaining property for agricultural purposes.
Noise caused by wind turbines and avian mortality are two additional environmental concerns. The noise level given by wind turbines is a misconception. Advances in turbine technology have allowed more wind to be converted to rotational torque, inevitably causing less noise. The noise experienced by such turbines is around 45dB, while the background noise heard in one's own home is roughly 50dB ("HealthLink"). Avian mortality and the effects on bird life is a natural concern for ecologists as birds can be injured or suffer death following collision with the blades or towers of the wind turbine. Ecologists also share concern about the disruption in breeding, nesting, or feeding habits of birds. Avian mortality ranges from zero to a few hundred in the most severe circumstances per turbine each year (Kaygusuz 104). This figure, however, is less than the number of bird victims caused by high voltage power lines. A study in Denmark showed 20,000-25,000 birds died yearly in a 3,500 wind turbine area, while in the same year over a million birds were killed by vehicular traffic (Kaygusuz 104). One of the highest avian mortality rates was found near wind facilities in Altamont, where there are over 7,000 wind turbines and a total of 182 avian deaths were recorded in two yeas ("HealthLink"). Disturbances in avian breeding appear to be negligible, however there is a greater concern for migratory bird populations. The construction of wind farms must consider any potential interference with migration patterns to avoid these risks.
Wind energy not only creates positive outcomes for the environment, but also encompasses positive economic results. In Europe, where there is the most concentrated use of wind energy, the wind energy market is already a competitor with coal and nuclear power sources. When considering the cost of pollution, the cost of wind power is particularly competitive. Another economical impact of wind energy is that as other energy technologies are becoming more expensive, the cost of wind energy is falling (Kaygusuz 101). To put simply, wind is free. The initial costs of constructing a wind farm, including the turbines, are considerable, but over time the losses are regained, especially when the cost of pollution and disposal of byproducts are not a concern to wind power. After the wind power project has been paid for, maintenance and operation are the only remaining expenses. The technology used to develop turbines has become cheaper and more productive, which is the ultimate factor that decreases the cost of wind energy (Kaygusuz 101). The U.S. government also provides tax incentives for those building wind farms. Over the course of the next few decades, the price of fossil fuels will continue to climb. Eventually, these nonrenewable resources that have become the crutch of industrialized societies will be extinct. Political tensions surrounding fossil fuels will also continue to escalate, with those possessing oil resources controlling global markets. The conversion of wind to electricity is an environmental, economical, and political investment for the future.
Projections about the future use of wind energy suggest wind power will become a significant source of electricity within the next 15 years. In Europe, it is estimated by the year 2030, 23% of European electricity will be provided by wind energy ("European Wind Energy Technology Platform"). This expected growth is not solely a matter of covering Europe with turbines. Improvements with wind turbine technology projects turbines will be operating at twelve-times their current capacity by 2030, with the technical lifetime of a turbine being between 20 and 25 years ("European Wind Energy Technology Platform"). The expansion of wind energy will also increase business revenues and provide quality jobs. The World Energy Council estimates the…