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The Pros and Cons of Wind Energy

Since graduating from university, Paul has worked as a librarian, bookseller, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.

What are the pros and cons of using wind energy over other power sources, such as fossil fuels?

What are the pros and cons of using wind energy over other power sources, such as fossil fuels?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Wind Power

Produced through the use of carefully situated wind turbines, wind would appear to have lots of potential for creating clean, cheap, and renewable energy, certainly if you listen to its proponents.

Opponents of wind power, however, highlight the unsightliness of the wind farms as a major drawback, plus the inflexibility of wind turbines when compared to traditional power plants in terms of supplying the fluctuating power levels needed by the modern world.

There are over 80 countries in the world at the moment that are using wind power commercially to supply their electrical grids; these include Denmark, Spain, Portugal, the USA, China, and Germany. (In Denmark, over a fifth of all their energy needs are supplied by wind power, which is the largest proportion of any country).

In my wind energy pros and cons list, I give the main advantages and disadvantages of harnessing the wind as a source of power and the arguments used by those for and against it.

Turbine farm operating in Bangui, Africa.  Wind energy has huge potential, although critics point out that fully harnessing that potential provides significant technical challenges that are yet to be overcome.

Turbine farm operating in Bangui, Africa. Wind energy has huge potential, although critics point out that fully harnessing that potential provides significant technical challenges that are yet to be overcome.

There is an urgent need to stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, dramatically reduce wasted energy, and significantly shift our power supplies from oil, coal, and natural gas to wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewable energy sources.

— Bill McKibben

7 Wind Energy Pros

  1. Wind energy is plentiful, and there is enough of it around to supply all the world’s energy needs if harnessed properly. Plus, unlike oil, gas, and uranium, wind energy will not run out one day.
  2. Wind energy is essentially free, with only the initial cost of setting up the turbines and minimal maintenance fees to pay for.
  3. Wind energy has a negligible environmental impact when it comes to things like pollution, contamination, toxic waste, etc., especially when compared with what other energy sources create, such as the radioactive waste from nuclear power or the smoke and smog from traditional coal-burning power plants.
  4. Wind energy also produces no greenhouse gasses and so does not contribute towards global warming, making it superior to fossil fuels.
  5. Wind energy is very cost-effective when you compare it with other power sources, such as nuclear energy.
  6. Wind farms can be situated in remote areas or offshore where they won’t cause a blot on the eye for people. Their ugliness, disruptiveness, and the noise of the turbines tend to be exaggerated by the anti-wind-energy people.
  7. Although some birds are killed by the turbines, the numbers are tiny compared to those killed by cell and radio towers, not to mention the billions killed by domestic cats.

I think that the world is in the middle of a huge transition that we have to make to renewable energy. We have to transition away from fossil fuels very, very quickly.

— Josh Fox

A traditional windmill.  Utilizing wind power i not a new thing, such mills were a common sight before the onset of full industrialization and fossil fuel power.  Modern technology can be used to harness wind energy more efficiently now, however.

A traditional windmill. Utilizing wind power i not a new thing, such mills were a common sight before the onset of full industrialization and fossil fuel power. Modern technology can be used to harness wind energy more efficiently now, however.

There's a lot of wishful thinking that somehow we'll replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources, but they remain far from reality. We're not going to run Wal-Mart, Disney World, and the interstate highway system on any combination of alternative or renewable energy - solar, wind, algae oils, ethanol, used french-fry grease, you name it.

— James Howard Kunstler

5 Wind Energy Cons

  1. An individual wind turbine produces very little energy. To produce sufficient amounts of power, many turbines need to be gathered together in large “wind farms.” Wind farms, therefore, take up huge amounts of space, even just to produce relatively small amounts of power, covering far bigger areas than conventional power stations.
  2. Wind farms look unsightly, often spoiling areas of natural beauty. They can also be noisy and disruptive in other ways.
  3. Wind turbines kill birds, which can fly into them by accident.
  4. Although the idea of “free” electricity might seem appealing, there are problems associated with wind power that you don't get with traditional energy sources. One main difficulty is that wind energy is unreliable, and you can’t predict how much energy you will have coming in from day to day because even when the wind does blow, it is inconsistent in its strength. Modern society needs energy levels maintained at certain levels in order to keep functioning. Because of the unreliability of wind, it isn't as flexible as traditional sources of power—for instance, if your power levels are running low, you can’t respond quickly and create lots more energy suddenly like you can with most traditional power sources (For instance, with coal you can increase power output just by burning more.)
  5. The cost-effectiveness of wind energy is also sometimes overestimated. This is because the technology involved has to be very high-tech to try to counteract some of the problems associated with the unreliability of wind and efficiency mentioned above. This state-of-the-art technology that is needed can be very expensive (a modern wind turbine isn't just a propellor, it consists of lots of complex electronics and gear systems). Even with all the technology, research has shown that a typical wind turbine only works at about a third of its potential power-producing capacity on average.

We rushed into renewable energy without any thought. The schemes are largely hopelessly inefficient and unpleasant. I personally can't stand windmills at any price.

— James Lovelock

The future is green energy, sustainability, renewable energy.

— Arnold Schwarzenegger

"The wind industry has achieved remarkable growth largely due to the claim that it will provide major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. There's just one problem: It's not true. A slew of recent studies show that wind-generated electricity likely won't result in any reduction in carbon emissions—or that they'll be so small as to be almost meaningless."

— Robert Bryce

Facts About Wind Power

  • Denmark generates 40% of its electric power from wind.
  • Over 80 countries in the world use wind power to supply their electric grids.
  • 4% of electric power usage worldwide is generated by wind.
  • 11.4% of electric power usage in the European Union is wind-powered.
Wind power has been around in human life for a long time, wind-powered sails on boats being a classic example.  It wasn't until the 19th century that it was used to create electricity, however.  Pictured is Charles Brush's windmill of 1888.

Wind power has been around in human life for a long time, wind-powered sails on boats being a classic example. It wasn't until the 19th century that it was used to create electricity, however. Pictured is Charles Brush's windmill of 1888.

Further Reading

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.