Renewable energy has many different forms. One source of renewable energy is harnessing the wind as a power source. While there are many ways to use the wind’s energy, the most common form is to generate electricity, which is then fed into the electric grid. To use wind energy for your home, you can either install your own wind turbine to generate the electricity, or you may be able to buy it from your local utility. If you live in a deregulated area, you can also purchase it from most retail providers.
Wind is a clean source of energy that produces no pollution or greenhouse gases. Advances in technology and the power of scale are making wind turbines cheaper and more efficient. Many Americans use wind power either because it is part of their energy mix or because they actively purchase wind power as a source of green energy.
Switching To Wind Energy
Customers of over 600 utilities across the U.S. can choose to buy green power from renewable sources such as wind power. The utility companies either generate the wind power or purchase renewable energy certificates (RECs) on the market to offset the electricity coming from non-renewable sources. When you switch to wind power, the supply portion you pay on your bill will contribute to the generation of renewable power from a wind farm.
If your utility doesn’t offer a green power plan, you can also purchase RECs directly. When you buy RECs, you’re buying clean energy that will be fed into the power grid, effectively replacing the same amount of electricity generated by fossil fuels. Your local utility will continue to deliver the electricity to your home.
Wind as a Power Source
Wind turbines convert the wind’s kinetic energy into mechanical power. Most wind energy comes from large turbines that have three 200-foot-long blades. The wind spins the blades, which turn a shaft connected to a gearbox and ultimately spin a generator that produces electricity.
According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), wind turbines provided 8 percent of the electricity in the U.S. in 2016, more than any other renewable source. Here are some arguments in favor of using wind as a power source:
Wind Is Renewable
Wind power is a renewable and sustainable energy source. The estimated potential of usable wind energy in the United States alone is almost 17 times as much as the annual U.S. electricity demand. Wind is a sustainable power source, fueled by the sun, and will never run out. Wind is also a domestic energy source, which strengthens energy security and increases independence from fuel imports.
Wind Energy Is Clean
Wind energy generates no pollution such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides or sulfur dioxide, and no carbon dioxide (CO2) or other greenhouse gases. According to the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan, America’s wind power plants offset the emission of an estimated 189 million metric tons of CO2 in 2017, a reduction equal to the CO2 emissions of over 41 million cars.
Wind Energy Is Cheap
Initial investment and operational costs for wind energy are low, especially compared to fossil-fueled generation. At times, wind power can provide electricity at half the price of coal. In 2017, wind energy cost as little as 2 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) on the wholesale market. According to the EIA, the average U.S. residential electricity price was 12.9 cents/kWh in 2017.
In 2017, the installation of wind turbines was about $1.6 million per megawatt (MW) of installed power compared to $3.5 million for coal plants. The estimated levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) across the U.S. for new wind turbines is currently estimated at $48 per MWh compared to over $130 per MWh for standard coal power plants.
The levelized cost of electricity describes the real cost per MWh, including building and operating a generating plant over its assumed life cycle. Out of all generation technologies, only geothermal plants have a lower LCOE ($41.6/MWh) than wind power.
Wind Turbines Are Space Efficient
On a typical wind farm, turbines are distributed over a large area. The amount of land used is only about 1% of the wind farm area. The land itself can be used for other purposes like farming, ranches, or natural habitats. Wind turbines are especially more space-efficient compared to other renewable energy sources. The larger turbines can generate enough electricity to supply 600 average U.S. homes for a year.
Wind Energy Creates Jobs
Besides the jobs wind power creates in the power generation and distribution field, the manufacturing of wind turbines and their components employed 105,500 full-time workers at more than 500 U.S. facilities in 2017. With an annual economic impact of about $20 billion on the U.S. economy, wind has the potential to support over 600,000 jobs in the sector by 2050.
Wind farms are often built on farms or ranches, providing a stable income for farmers, ranchers, and other large landowners. Income is typically based on the number of turbines and the value of the electricity generated on the property. The lease terms can be substantial for large landowners, especially in rural areas.
Like most other electricity generation plants, wind power can pose a risk to wildlife. The rotating blades can harm birds and bats. With most power generation plants, there are concerns about visual impacts on the landscape or noise concerns. These concerns can be considered less significant for wind turbines, especially in comparison to fossil fuel-powered plants. However, wind power also has some disadvantages:
The availability of wind energy is intermittent and not always predictable. Wind doesn’t always blow when electricity is needed, and the power generated doesn’t always match the demand. Typically, wind on land is stronger during the night, while electricity demand is typically greater during the day. Unless you have other power sources or sufficient energy storage capacity, wind energy by itself is an unreliable power source.
Supply And Transmission
The most suitable sites for wind farms are sometimes located away from areas with major electric power demand. Wind turbines have to be individually connected and require a transmission infrastructure to cities and other areas where there is demand. The windiest sites may also compete with other forms of land use. This may result in wind farms being built in places with less optimal wind speeds or away from existing infrastructure.