Wind energy offers many advantages, which explains why it’s the fastest-growing energy source in the world. Current research efforts are aimed at addressing the challenges to greater use of wind energy.
It’s a clean fuel source. Wind energy doesn’t pollute the air like power plants that rely on combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas. Wind turbines don’t produce atmospheric emissions that cause acid rain or greenhouse gasses.
Wind energy is a domestic source of energy. The nation’s wind supply is abundant: over the past 10 years, cumulative wind power capacity in the United States increased an average of 30% per year, outpacing the 28% growth rate in worldwide capacity.
It’s sustainable. Wind is actually a form of solar energy; winds are caused by the heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the rotation of the earth, and the earth’s surface irregularities. For as long as the sun shines and the wind blows, the energy produced can be harnessed to send power across the grid.
Wind power is cost effective. It is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy technologies available today, costing between four and six cents per kilowatt-hour, depending upon the wind resource and project financing of the particular project.
Wind turbines can be built on existing farms or ranches. This greatly benefits the economy in rural areas, where most of the best wind sites are found. Farmers and ranchers can continue to work the land because the wind turbines use only a fraction of the land. Wind power plant owners make rent payments to the farmer or rancher for the use of the land providing landowners with additional income.
Wind power must still compete with conventional generation sources on a cost basis. Depending on how energetic a wind site is, the wind farm may or may not be cost competitive. Even though the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past 10 years, the technology requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fueled generators.
Good wind sites are often located in remote locations, far from cities where the electricity is needed. Transmission lines must be built to bring the electricity from the wind farm to the city.
Wind resource development may not be the most profitable use of the land. Land suitable for wind turbine installation must compete with alternative uses for the land, which may be more highly valued than electricity generation.
Turbines may cause noise and aesthetic pollution. Although wind power plants have relatively little impact on the environment compared to other conventional power plants, there is some concern over the noise produced by the rotor blades, aesthetic (visual) impacts.
The turbine blades may damage local wildlife. Sometimes birds have been killed by flying into the rotors. Most of these problems have been resolved or greatly reduced through technological development or by properly siting wind plants.