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Blow Me Down

Look to the wind for power

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Blow Me Down

Pollution-free, abundant, and renewable–that’s wind energy in a nutshell. Use of wind energy has increased over 30 percent annually in the past five years. The Journal of Electronics and General Engineering states that wind power will become one of the major energy resources of the future.

Pollution-free, abundant, and renewable–that’s wind energy in a nutshell. Use of wind energy has increased over 30 percent annually in the past five years. The Journal of Electronics and General Engineering states that wind power will become one of the major energy resources of the future.

Since its inception in North America in the 1980s, wind turbine technology has multiplied its efficiency 10 times–today’s turbines are quieter and have slower moving blades. Growth in turbine production has also multiplied rapidly, doubling almost every three years during the 1990s alone. Every time turbine production doubled, the cost dropped by 20 percent.

A Worldwide Phenomenon

Use of wind power is growing, particularly in Europe where electricity costs exceed those in North America. Wind energy first emerged in Denmark in the 1970s, and their technology
powered the California “wind rush” of the 1980s.

Despite its promising start, America currently only uses 17 percent of the world’s wind generating capacity. Europe uses 74 percent, due to conventional energy costs, compared to Canada, where we use a mere 1 percent of our capacity. Why so low? Natural Resources Canada (nrcan.gc.ca) speculates that this is because we produce more electricity from other sources than we can use.

The cost of wind power generation is another reason for neglecting the wind’s potential. The December 2005 issue of The Journal of Wind Engineering reported that in Sweden, where public support for wind energy is 74 percent, the main reason for opposition was the “spatial distance between costs incurred and the benefits derived from wind power.” In other words, is it worth it? It is if you consider that the operating costs for wind power are steadily decreasing, while the costs of traditional electricity generation are rising.

Benefits and Drawbacks

The David Suzuki Foundation (davidsuzuki.org) reports: “Wind energy creates new jobs, offsets emissions from fossil-fired power plants, offsets external costs, provides net positive energy balance, stimulates new economic development, notably in rural areas, enhances security of electricity supply, and provides electricity price security.”

Wind energy opponents argue that creating wind energy requires too much land. Seventeen acres (7 hectares) of land are needed to produce 1 megawatt of electricity, which can power 750 to 1,000 homes. This may be expensive, but use of this land can be shared by farms and cattle.

Another concern is aesthetic. Since wind farms are often located on or just above ridgelines, they obstruct the view. But perhaps we should be more concerned about tomorrow’s view. “Wind energy is associated with few environmental impacts compared with other sources of energy and reduces our contribution to global climate change,” reports the Canadian Wind Energy Association (canwea.ca).

Taking Wind Power Home

Think wind is just for the outdoors? Not necessarily. A small wind turbine uses different materials and technology than a large turbine and can be appropriate for residential use.

But various factors need to be considered first. Turbine blades gather ice in cold climates, and geographic variables can make a quiet turbine noisy. Most modern turbines are not disruptive, however, as long as they are properly sited at least 650 feet (200 m) from occupied dwellings. In addition you would have to look into zoning and other legal barriers, but harnessing the wind is definitely an option to consider.

Winds of Change

Groups of large turbines, called wind farms, boast an impressive growth rate of 38 percent annually from the years 2000 to 2005. This acceleration increased to 54 percent in 2005. According to the Canadian Wind Energy Association, “Based on the experience of other countries, it is possible for Canada to achieve 20 percent of its electricity needs from wind energy; that would be 50,000 megawatts of wind energy capacity.”

Unfortunately, Canada does not have a strong policy framework to support wind energy. Yet federal and provincial incentives are offered to those working with wind. Federally, financial support and tax write-offs are available through its ecoENERGY for Renewable Power program (eco-energy.gc.ca). Provincially, Ontario and British Columbia give tax perks to those in renewable energy development, and Alberta and Ontario have committed to purchasing a portion of their electricity needs from renewable sources, including wind.

Wind Basics

Classified as a form of solar energy, wind energy harnesses the power of surface winds through a wind turbine, which looks like a toy pinwheel or windmill. The turning of the turbine’s blades rotates its generator, and thus new electricity is produced.

Natural variables control the wind’s usefulness; for example, wind speed determines energy output. Minimum wind speed of 12 mph (19 kph) is needed to fuel a turbine. Some cities are windier than others, making them ideal for turbine installation.

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