|Fig. 1: Offshore wind turbines in the Irish Sea (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
To obtain wind power, the kinetic energy of wind is used to create mechanical power. A generator converts this power into electricity so that it may be used for the benefit of mankind. Recently, different types of electricity generation have been a frequent topic of debate amongst experts. Surely, wind energy is one of the frontrunners of the technological breakthroughs that might lead to more efficient energy production. At a glance, the future of wind energy seems promising. This may be the case, but there are also some disadvantages that must be considered.
The advantages of wind energy are more apparent than the disadvantages. The main advantages include an unlimited, free, renewable resource (the wind itself), economic value, maintenance cost, and placement of wind harvesting facilities. First and foremost, wind is an unlimited, free, renewable resource. Wind is a natural occurrence and harvesting the kinetic energy of wind doesn't affect currents or wind cycles in any way. Next, harvesting wind power is a clean, non-polluting way to generate electricity. Unlike other types of power plants, it emits no air pollutants or greenhouse gases. The wind turbines harmlessly generate electricity from wind passing by. Wind energy is far more ecofriendly than the burning of fossil fuels for electricity. Currently, the United States, along with other countries, remains dependent on fossil fuels imported from unstable and unreliable nations.  Strains on supply (of fossil fuels) are likely to increase the prices of fossil fuel resources and leave the US economy exposed to international market volatility. Wind power has the ability to free the US from the figurative economic bondage of fossil fuels. Once turbines and energy centers have been installed, the cost of maintaining turbines and generating wind power is next to nothing. Another advantage of wind power is the ability to place turbines wherever necessary. After performing research and finding areas that have adequate wind, experts may place the turbines in desired areas. These areas are usually unpopulated (offshore wind turbines, for example).  In fact, offshore winds tend to blow harder and more uniformly than on land, providing the potential for increased electricity generation and smoother, steadier operation than land-based wind power systems. Fig. 1 shows offshore wind turbines harvesting energy.
|Fig. 2: Turbine blade convoy passing through Edenfield, England (Source: Wikimedia Commons)|
The two major disadvantages of wind power include initial cost and technology immaturity. Firstly, constructing turbines and wind facilities is extremely expensive. The second disadvantage is technology immaturity.  High cost of energy can, in part, be addressed directly with technology innovations that increase reliability and energy output and lower system capital expenses. Offshore wind energy produces more energy than onshore wind energy, but costs much more to establish. The primary costs of wind turbines include construction and maintenance.  New technology is needed to lower costs, increase reliability and energy production, solve regional deployment issues, expand the resource area, develop infrastructure and manufacturing facilities, and mitigate known environmental impacts. Therefore, one may argue that implementation of wind energy must be delayed until technological advancements are made. Other disadvantages include:
Aesthetic impact: Many people are concerned with the visual effects that wind turbines have on the beautiful scenery of nature. They believe that giant wind turbines distract viewers from the beautiful surroundings. Fig. 2 shows just how big wind turbines can be.
Wildlife: Wind turbines may be dangerous to flying animals. Many birds and bats have been killed by flying into the rotors. Experts are now conducting research to learn more about the effects that wind turbines have on marine habitats.
Remoteness of location: Although this may be an advantage (placing wind turbines in desolate areas, far away from people), it may also be a disadvantage. The cost of travel and maintenance on the turbines increases and is time consuming. Offshore wind turbines require boats and can be dangerous to manage.
Noise: Some wind turbines tend to generate a lot of noise which can be unpleasant
Safety at Sea: In the darkness/at night it may be difficult for incoming boats to see wind turbines thus leading to collisions.
© Dallas Lloyd. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.
 W. Musial and B. Ram, "Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States," U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-500-40745, September 2010.