Renewable Energy: Humanity to Pay for the Actions and Inactions
Regardless of what some might argue, eventually humanity will have to pay for the actions and inactions that have lead to multiple environmental concerns around the world. Man's interference with natural processes has disrupted the fine-tuned machine that has sustains human existence. Continued interference and refusal to accept the dangers as truth may result in an exorbitant readjustment of the environment that will lead to an eventual peril of humanity. Despite these disturbing facts, there are methods of reducing the damage to the environment and many methods are present in the form of renewable energy sources. As this paper illustrates, there are a number of renewable energy sources but understanding which option is most appropriate is gained through researching the different sources and then applying that knowledge when making a recommendation for a specific source. As such, this paper looks at the bigger picture of renewable energy emphasizing wind power as a viable and recommended source. To understand the reason wind power is recommended, one must understand the current context for this type of renewable energy and possible affects to current development.
Renewable Energy Sources
Collectively, energy sources include bioenergy, coal, electric power, fossil fuels, fusion, geothermal heating and cooling, hydrogen, natural gas, nuclear, oil, renewable, solar, and wind. Among the forms of Biomass is a form of energy created when the sun shines on plants and trees whereby the formation is burned to provide heat for homes and fuel for boilers (EIA 2010). Biomass uses electricity generators to burn wood chips, sawdust, garbage, plant refuse (bagasse), and low-quality methane gases from landfills. In recent years, more coverage has been given to biomass from corn as another source of fuel, a process involving the fermenting of biomass into alcohol producing ethanol (EIA 2010). By blending the ethanol with gasoline, petroleum-based automobile fuel is thereby replaced. Another method includes the use of soybeans blended with diesel to create an alternate fuel source. However, the use of biomass has been linked to potential increased contribution to global warming and erosion.
In 2008, renewable energy comprised about 7% o the nation's energy supply, a 2% increase from 2005 data reports (EIA 2010). Solar energy produces predictable flows of energy that can be converted to other energy forms, such as electricity and heat, or stored in biomass (EIA 2010). However, solar energy affects clouds which can hinder the amount of solar energy available at a given time. According EIA solar information, the "sun's rays must fall on a relatively large area for enough heat to be collected for conversion to electricity" (EIA 2010). Alternatives do exist whereby a "concentrating collector" is used to focus the rays onto a much smaller area. However, the use of collectors, popular from 2003-2006, has declined as fuel costs increased in 2007 and 2008. The rise in energy costs is due, in part, to concerns about global warming and the nation's dependence on foreign oil. The EIA reports that the major economic use of solar energy is residential heating (e.g. hot water, space heating, heating swimming pools) but a backup heating system is generally needed (EIA 2010) --a cost that many residential users cannot afford. As such, wind power is a recommended renewable energy source.
Wind power is rapidly becoming more popular. Wind power uses blades to collect kinetic energy by using a drive shaft to turn the blades thereby powering an electric generator to produce electricity. The costs of this source has been relative high, but new technologies have decreased the cost of producing electricity from wind, and growth in wind power has been encouraged by tax breaks for renewable energy and green pricing programs (EIA 2010). In 2006, wind machines accounted for about 26.6 billion killowatts per year which serviced more than 2.4 million households (EIA 2010). Unlike the flucation of solar enegry, wind energy has experienced a steady increase to 50% in 2006, marking more than a 50% increase from 2003 data reports (EIA 2010). As of 2006, wind energy is used to generate electricity in 28 US states (EIA 2010), as well as a number of other countries.
While the United Kingdom has about 40% of Europe's wind resource, it only uses 0.5 %, which is far less than Germany and Denmark. Denmark, pioneers of wind power technology, has numerous wind farms in operation generating in excess of 1442 MW of power with a significant portion of its population living in proximity to the sites. One of the most common arguments, even in Denmark, is that the siting (location) of single turbines or farms is unattractive. Other issues come from those who, despite little or no experience around wind turbines, believe that noise level will be significantly increased.
Research indicates that by 2050 the earth's population will exceed nine billion. If projections are near accurate, the rate of growth under current conditions will cause serious damage to the environment. Vestas, a Norway-based corporation, questions "where will the energy come from to fuel the expectations of a modern society and power its progress?" (Sustainability 2007, par. 1). The finite sources of energy in use today will not meet the needs of future generations. In fact, the world is currently using "significantly more fossil fuels that we are finding" (par. 2). The world is becoming more "dependent on energy from sustainable sources such as biofuels, the sun, (not always reliable) geothermal-based systems, and hydrogen" (par. 2). However, the most effective and least costly renewable energy source is the power of the wind.
Vestas studies provide in-depth views of wind power but some of the basic facts state the wind is an energy source that will always be available; it is an unlimited resource. When comparing on equal terms, wind power is "capable of competing with fossil energy sources," and window power "enhances energy independence" (Sustainability 2007, par. 3). Furthermore, wind power enables the establishment of a large number of megawatts in a short time and it is proven effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, a number of arguments have slowed the progress of wind power use, including location and landscape issues.
Impact to Development and Dependability Issues
Some claims that impact the development of wind power is the disadvantages of wind turbines taking up excessive space. Many people object to the idea of having wind turbines installed because of the amount of land it takes. Because wind farms can stretch for miles, opponents claim that their presence puts wildlife in danger. The height of one turbine can exceed 400 feet and consists of propeller blades that move nearly 160 miles per hour (Easton 2008, p. 180). Other impacts are related to claims that residential property will lose value if located near a wind plant. Visual impact is the most widely cited argument while noise is another. According the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a panel of experts consisting of medical professionals, audiologists and acoustical professionals reveal that sound generated by wind turbines are not harmful to human health.
Since wind power is variable, are wind turbines dependable, especially when in high demand? The answer is not quick or simple. In fact, the answer depends on the region and the types of turbines used. For example, the AWEA explains that "China's electric transmission system can carry power farther and more efficiently and that by contrast, U.S. transmission lines lose 'as much as 80 percent of energy when transmitting electricity over long distances'" (Gray 2011, par. 1). However, in the context of current wind power industry statistics, the AWEA (2011) reports:
"The U.S. wind industry had 40,181 megawatts (MW) of wind power capacity installed at the end of 2010, with 5,116 MW installed in 2010 alone. The U.S. wind industry has added over 35% of all new generating capacity over the past [four] years, second only to natural gas, and more than nuclear and coal combined. Today, U.S. wind power capacity represents more than 20% of the world's installed wind power." (par. 2)
Moniteau, et al explains that wind-generated electricity is a promising option for producing hydrogen from renewable energy sources. The authors explains, however, that the "economic performances of such systems generally remain unclear because of unspecified or favorable assumptions and operating conditions" (p. 2957) but that the production costs have been found to vary with the most "favorable conditions being those in which storage systems are kept to a minimum" (p. 2957).
Conversely, reports published by Energy Tribune reveal other views related to the variability of wind power. Glover and Economides (2008) explain that "when the wind drops or blows too hard, turbines stop spinning and you get no power" (par. 16). While advocates of wind turbines claim that this problem "can be avoided by the geographical spread of wind farms, perhaps by creating an international 'supergrid'" (par. 16), the authors further explain:
"Periods of low wind means a need for pumped storage and essential back-up facilities... a realistically feasible U.K. pumped-storage base would only cope with one or two days of low winds at best. As regards [to] back-up facilities, [the] only feasible systems for the planned 25 gigawatt wind system would be one that relied equally on old-style natural gas turbines…the expense of a threefold wind, pump storage and gas turbine back-up solution 'would be ridiculous'" (par. 17).
Benefits of Wind Power
The AWEA lists a number of benefits to using wind power, including reduced environmental risk, price hedge, stable pricing and good for the bottom line. Unlike other methods of generating power, wind power does not produce carbon dioxide or air pollutant emissions, "requires no water, mining, drilling, or transportation of fuel, and generates no radioactive or other hazardous or polluting waste" (p. 1). While wind turbine prices have increased, the change is expected to be short-term with "long-term downward price trends expected to continue which will make wind power very cost-competitive with other generating options as domestic manufacturing catches up with demand" (p. 1). Wind power is viewed in a positive light by regulators and contributes directly to economic development and job creation. Furthermore, increasingly, customers are demanding "green" options as opposed to the expensive and environmentally degrading options of traditional energy sources. The extended benefits have been proven in the way wind power is used offshore, particularly on oil rigs. Wind power enables energy access in areas where traditional utility services have difficulty reaching.
Wind power also reduces negative impacts to the global climate in ways that work to improve the climate crisis. Results from studies conducted by the Global Humanitarian Forum (GHF) reveals that climate change kills about 315,000 people each year. The deaths are directly related to the impact the climate crisis has on climate change, such as hunger, sickness, and weather-related disasters (Rowling). Disturbingly, the annual death toll is "expected to rise to half a million by 2030" (par. 1). Apart from the death toll, GHF estimates that about 325 million people are affected by climate change each year with projections indicating that number will be more than double in 20 years, subsequently affecting 10% of the world's population. However, other affects have been reported, specifically economic losses. The GHF reports that economic loss due to global warming exceeds $125 billion each year with projections to rise to $340 billion by 2030 (Rowling 2009).
Global climate concerns can be alleviated through wind power use, specifically through the projected plan for 20% wind energy by 2030. Wind power reduces the need for generating electricity from other sources which reduces fuel expenditures and operating costs, lowering rates for customers and, most importantly, it reduces the emissions typically linked to electric power (Electric 2010). Collectively, as the world begins to employ and increase the use of wind power, a significant change in negative impacts to the environment will be recognized. However, there are continued obstacles that must be overcome before the world will fully recognize the benefits of wind power.
Andersen, P. D. 2007. Review of Historical and Modern Utilization of Wind Power. Wind Energy Department, Denmark.
Easton, T. 2008. Taking Sides: Clashing views on environmental issues. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies.
Electric Utilities and Wind Power –A Good Mix. 2010. American Wind Energy Association.
Energy Information Administration (EIA). 2010. Renewable Energy Explained.
Etherington, J. R. The Case against Wind 'Farms'. Country Guardian.
Glover, P. and Economides, M. J. 2008. Wind Power Exposed: The Renewable Energy Source is Expensive, Unreliable and Won't Save Natural Gas. Energy Tribune.
Gray. T. 2011. What about transmission line losses? April 29. American Wind Energy Association.
Industry Statistics. 2011. American Wind Energy Association. April 7.
Moniteau, P. et al. 2011. An economic analysis of the production of hydrogen from wind- generated electricity for use in transport applications. Energy Policy, May, Vol. 39, Iss. 5, 2957.
Rowling, M. 2009. Report: Climate Crisis is the Greatest Threat to Humanity. Amped Status, June 3. Accessed April 30, 2011. Sustainability. Vestas. 2011.
A number of sources were consulted in the preparation for this paper; however, among the top five sources, research and related articles published by the Energy Tribune appear to be to most reliable and unbiased. While Andersen (2007) provides an effective presentation on the historical and modern use of wind power, which leads this writer to believe the future of wind power is positive, there are other sources that touch deeper on the pros and cons. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) and the American Wind Energy Association (AWIA) focus on the facts of wind power by providing informative sources that point to the historical and ongoing efforts of using wind power as a renewable energy source as well as information on the explanations of wind power and statistical data. Etherington (2006) provides a view of how the opposition supports the negative impact of wind power turbines. As such, this writer believes that while the benefits of wind power reveal a positive alternative to traditional forms of energy, additional research is needed to develop the most effective and cost-savings measures possible for wind power to reach the potential advocates believe it can reach.
Andersen, P. D. Review of Historical and Modern Utilization of Wind Power. Wind Energy Department, Denmark.
Energy Information Administration (EIA).Renewable Energy Explained.
Etherington, J. R. The Case against Wind 'Farms'. Country Guardian.
Glover, P. and Economides, M. J. Wind Power Exposed: The Renewable Energy Source is Expensive, Unreliable and Won't Save Natural Gas. Energy Tribune.
Gray. T. What about transmission line losses? April 29. American Wind Energy Association.