We Know: All About Wind Energy/Power

What's there to know about Wind Energy?

To begin with, wind is one of the major alternative energy sources being tapped around the world for electric power generation. The proverbial surface is just being scratched insofar as its potential for supplying a great deal of world's electric power in the coming years.

How does it benefit me directly?

One of two ways:

  1. Depending on where you live, you could already be using electric power that is produced by the wind (which is really another form of solar energy when all is said and done). If not, and you are so inclined, you may wish to advocate for the use of wind power by your electric utility so that you help further the development of alternative power sources and production.
  2. You could be in a position to actually own and operate your own little private power plant using the wind.

Both depend on power or electricity generation by wind turbines of some variety and size. These turbines use propellers that are turned by the wind and which then spin generators to produce electricity.

Tell me about the big picture first.

In certain parts of the U.S., for example, such as California and Minnesota, where there is a prevalence of steady wind coming across the landscape, you will find the large utility-scale wind farms and generators. More and more are springing up too. Some of the latest wind turbines or generators can individually produce up to 1.8 Megawatts of power, enough to serve a little over 2,000 homes. There are also individual utility-scale wind turbines being set up by individual entities in their own locales, such as colleges, to generate revenue by selling the electricity to their local utilities and/or power their facilities. Some entities are alternatively agreeing to buy into wind farms that may be some distance away and to benefit from the sale of electricity that is generated by them.

Before you decide to rush out and set one of these up to generate money for your school district, keep in mind these are huge physical structures that must be placed properly to catch the best wind. They are highly sophisticated technologically and so require a lot of engineering know-how to buy and set up. Agreements with local utilities need to be made to either buy all the power or some of it during off-peak periods if you want to use one of these to provide some power for a facility or institution. And, they are expensive, costing well over a $1 million each to purchase and set up.

There is no wind power in my area, although there's a lot of wind. What can I do to get my utility into the wind power game?

More and more utilities are recognizing that wind generation is a very attractive way to produce electric power. But they need to know their customers will support the costs of their getting into the game. Also, some geographically isolated areas of the country and/or world may not be near a major power grid, meaning that power that could be generated by a wind farm has no where to go. And then there are the politics interweaved into all of this. Some special interests feel this is a threat to traditional energy generation and will and do make efforts to stonewall or totally prevent the installation of new wind energy farms. They can do this by manipulating or eliminating tax credits that have been in place to encourage the development of wind power.

What if I'd just like to install a small wind turbine for my own electric generation?

This has become very popular among farmers, small rural businesses, and rural home owners. Wind turbines that generate as little as 50 kilowatts of energy can be set up and operated. Electric utilities are required to buy back any extra energy you might generate that you don't use.

How difficult is this to do?

Well, you'll have to first shell out some money to buy the turbine. Some are advertised for as low $500, although you'll have to consider paying more in most cases. Then the turbine would have to be shipped and set up and plugged into your home as well as the power grid. If you're savvy with this sort of technology you might be able to do it yourself. If not, you'll need to hire someone to help. One very important element here is to make sure it is plugged into the electric grid properly. If done incorrectly, power coming from it could electrocute line workers.

What are the drawbacks to Wind Energy/Power?

If you're wanting to set up a small one yourself, obviously there are the costs associated with it. Would it benefit you financially in the long run? Or maybe you just want to use an alternative energy source and cost wouldn't be a major consideration. This is something you would have decide based on the philosophical side of things.

As for the large-scale wind energy generation projects using the utility-scale turbines on wind farms, there have been concerns over the years about birds being killed by the towers, about their noise, and about simply their aesthetic effect on the landscape. Proponents of wind energy go to great lengths to explain that the early wind energy farms were inadvertently placed in bird flyways and that that is not happening now. They will also argue that the latest generation of wind turbines make very little sound, although some would counter argue that that is true for one or two, but not for hundreds when they're together. Finally, as for their presence on the landscape you will either like to see them or you won't. Making a decision based on this consideration really comes down to whether or not you can trade off some landscape degradation for the creation of energy from an alternative energy source.

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