Thesis: Wind Power, Farms, &amp Turbines

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Wind Power

Wind Farms and Wind Turbines: An Examination of Their Role as a Sustainable Alternative Energy Source

Wind Farm in Boulder County, Wyoming

Wind Turbines at Burbo Bank in the Mouth of the River Mersey

Respective Percentage of U.S. Renewable Energy Consumption, 2004

Identifying sustainable and alternative energy sources has become a national priority in recent years, but the drive to make the paradigm shift from fossil fuels has not been easy or inexpensive. To date, there have been a number of initiatives intended to provide such alternative fuel sources, with some appearing to offer more advantages than others, but some of which, such as nuclear energy, carry some form of a trade-off in terms of introducing one potential environmental catastrophe for another. Fortunately, there are some methods, such as wind power, that are already available which have boasted a proven track record of performance with a minimal impact on the environment. Although wind power continues to represent a miniscule percentage of the total energy supply for the United States today, wind farms are increasingly cropping up across the country, and continuing investments in this emerging technology suggest that prices will continue to decrease while innovations will help wind farm efficiencies increase in the future, thereby making this alternative energy high competitive with existing energy sources. The purpose of this study was to provide an examination of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning the role currently being played by wind power in the United States, and to identify current and future trends concerning its use. A summary of the research and recommendations in this regard are provided in the conclusion.

Wind Farms and Wind Turbines: An Examination of Their Role as a Sustainable Alternative Energy Source

Introduction

Meeting the needs of an energy-hungry United States has assumed new relevance and importance in recent years, and the recent experiences with $4.00-a-gallon gasoline have driven this point home among consumers and policymakers alike. According to Keley (2007), "Americans are a power-hungry society, demanding conservation of natural resources and protection of the environment while simultaneously using an incredible supply of electricity" (489). While the experts continue to debate the best course of action to help the nation make the transition from a fossil-fuel-based economy to one that relies on a combination of sustainable alternative energy sources, an increasing number of experts have pointed to wind power as a potential resource that remains largely untapped today in terms of its overall contribution to the nation's energy needs. This paper provides an overview of the pros and cons related to wind power generation, including its costs compared to other traditional and alternative energy sources, its current contribution to the nation's energy needs, the types of wind turbine in use and envisioned, as well as current and future trends in wind power applications. A summary of the research and relevant recommendations are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

In their recent study, "Assessing U.S. Energy Policy," Brown, Sovacool and Hirsh (2006) report that in spite of increased efforts for the past 30 years to identify alternative sources of energy, the United States remains highly dependent on foreign sources. "While progress in adopting more energy-efficient technologies has saved billions of dollars throughout the economy," Brown and his colleagues note, "most other indicators of energy autonomy -- such as the percentage of imported fuel -- demonstrate that the country has become less independent than ever" (5).

Furthermore, there have been significant investments at both the federal and state level in such alternative energy sources as biomass production, geothermal sources as well as wind, and solar power, but all told, these alternatives sources have only achieved a mere 2% share of electricity generation during the past 3 decades (Brown et al.). According to these authors, "Reductions in the cost of power produced from renewables in this time have been impressive, making them look increasingly attractive for future use" (Brown et al. 5). These improvements in technology and the associated efficiencies of scale will therefore likely make this alternative energy source an even greater contributor to the nation's overall energy needs, a trend that is confirmed by recent research. For example, the results of a study by Hansen (2005) found that, "Electricity generated from wind is becoming increasingly prevalent across the United States. Since 1981, installed wind capacity in the U.S. has grown from 10 megawatts ('MW') to over 6,000 MW in 2003" (341).

A number of factors have contributed to this impressive growth rate, including increasing environmental concern over traditional energy sources as well as the economies of scale and operating efficiencies being introduced in wind power technology (Hansen). In this regard, Hansen emphasizes that, "Increasing awareness and concern regarding the environmental consequences of power production, most notably global climate change, have increased interest in renewable forms of power generation, primarily in wind" (341). Just as some other alternative energy sources such as hydroelectric power and nuclear energy have their environment drawbacks, critics of wind firms, though, maintain that land-based wind power can also cause unintended and unexpected ecological damage, particularly for certain species of wildlife, by transforming the landscape (Brown et al.) as shown in the land-based wind farm in Wyoming in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Wind Farm in Boulder County, Wyoming.

Source: http://www.gasdetection.com/news2/wind_farm_4_hnd.jpg

Likewise, the off-shore wind farms that are cropping up off the coast of Europe (see illustration in Figure 2 below) have been cited as potential hazards to shipping both in terms of their size (more than 600 feet tall!) as well as potential interference with ships' navigation systems (Gray 2008).

Figure 2. Wind Turbines at Burbo Bank in the Mouth of the River Mersey.

Source: Gray at 2.

Other objections have come from residents situated near proposed wind farm sites based on their potential noise pollution and disruption of the aesthetic. In this regard, Keley (2007) reports that, "Recently there has been much debate over the construction of a proposed wind farm known as Cape Wind, near Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A prominent resident of Martha's Vineyard for thirty years encapsulated the community's objection to the proposal: 'I'm not against wind turbines. I'm against 130 of them over 400 feet tall right smack in the middle of one of the most beautiful places in America'" (quoted in Keley at 490). Furthermore, some environmentalists have also cited wind farms as potential hazards to migrating birds and bat populations (Motavalli 2005:27).

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, although it is free and its general patterns are known, unlike most other sources of energy, the wind is entirely unpredictable and can only be harnessed when the wind is blowing sufficiently hard to drive the turbines in place. As Hansen (2005) emphasizes, the wind energy technologies in use today represent a new type of energy generation that involve fundamentally different problems from traditional electricity generation sources: "These traditional electricity generation sources, such as coal and natural gas fired power plants, are well understood and their behavior is predictable.... Wind power, however, does not exhibit these same characteristics. The fuel, wind, is free, but its use cannot be commanded by an operator, and the amount of power that will be produced at any one time is unknown. The wind blows as it will" (emphasis added) (341). According to this author, power companies must rely on known and predictable sources for their energy needs, and current wind power technologies make the integration of these sources complicated and expensive and prohibitive for installation across the board (Hansen 342).

Nevertheless, wind power does appear to represent a viable alternative energy sources in some regions of the country and elsewhere in the world today. Indeed, by 2002, India had already installed 1,167 megawatts of wind farms; further, Canada, Japan, Norway, and Germany have active Joint Implementation Programs that provide support for their wind power programs, and Costa Rica has three wind power projects included among its alternative energy initiatives (Ottinger 2002:331). Moreover, the use of wind farms as a primary constituent in a comprehensive energy approach in other countries continues to increase (Hansen).

Other countries have the same problems with wind farm installations, though, that will clearly affect their siting in the United States as well. For example, wind farm installations are typically very large arrays and require situating in places where they will receive the maximum amount of wind that is available for capture. Not surprisingly, Hansen advises that, "The best sites for wind development have strong, frequent winds" (342). Based on several decades' worth of wind-mapping research, though, and wind resources are currently classified on a scale of 1 (being "Poor") to 7 (being "Superb"), and industrial scale wind generation plants are now constructed in areas designed as class 3 or higher wind resources (Hansen).

Types of Wind Turbines.

Besides the traditional configurations illustrated in Figures 1 and 2 above, other wind turbine configurations include the vertical-axis wind turbine shown in Figure 3 below, as well as another designed for home installation in illustrated in Figure 4, with the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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