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Wind as a Renewable Energy Resource: Advantages & Disadvantages

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  • 0:05 Windmills and Power
  • 2:18 The Benefits of Wind
  • 4:02 The Downsides of Wind Power
  • 5:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Wind power is a renewable energy resource, but there are both pros and cons to this type of energy. In this video lesson, you will learn about wind power as well as some of the benefits and drawbacks of using it as a global energy source.

Windmills and Power

Have you ever seen these as you've driven down the road? These are wind turbines, and they are incredible machines! They literally turn wind into electrical energy. As wind blows by the turbine, it causes the blade to spin. This turns a mechanism inside, which is attached to a generator, which produces electricity.

Wind Turbines
Turbines Wind

Because wind is going to blow whether turbines are there to spin their blades or not, wind power is considered a renewable energy resource. This means that the power generated from wind is replenished by the environment over relatively short periods of time. You can harness the power of wind, but you sure can't stop it from blowing!

You've seen the modern wind turbines, but did you know that windmills have actually been used for several hundred years? Our modern-looking version is based on a wooden model that was designed in Europe over 800 years ago. These windmills were used to pump water for crop irrigation and grind grain into flour. Even in the U.S., ranchers in drier parts of the country use windmills to pump groundwater up for use as drinking water for their cattle.

Wooden Windmills
Wooden Windmills

The first windmill designed specifically for generating electricity was built in the late 1800s in Cleveland, Ohio. Charles Brush designed a turbine that was 50 feet tall, with 144 rotors made of wood. However, it took until the 1973 oil embargo for wind power to be funded by governments in North America and Europe, since there was a sudden dire need for an energy alternative to oil.

Today, most modern windmills are about 130-325 feet tall and have three rotors. The taller the windmill the better - they reach up where wind speeds are faster and turbulence is less. Windmills are not usually seen alone. They like the company of other windmills very much! In fact, most turbines are in large groups known as wind farms. Just like an agricultural farm produces lots of food, a wind farm produces lots of energy from wind.

The Benefits of Wind

This sounds great so far. Wind blows, and turbine blades passively turn, generating electricity. Wind power is beneficial because it is a no-emissions energy source, so it produces no air or water pollution. And once you put up the wind turbine, you really don't have to do much to it, so the operational costs are pretty low, too.

Wind turbines are also very generous. As with most types of energy, you have to give something to get something. Ethanol uses gasoline to grow and harvest corn. Nuclear power uses large facilities and requires a lot of cooling water. So, when we say that an energy source is efficient, we're saying that compared to what you get, you put in very little.

Wind energy is very efficient - turbines produce 23 times as much energy as they consume! To put it in perspective, nuclear energy produces 16 times as much energy as it consumes, coal gives you 11 times as much and natural gas produces only 5 times as much energy as it consumes!

Wind power is also very flexible. While most turbines like to hang out with large groups of their friends on wind farms, some like to hang out with smaller groups, and some even like to fly solo. This means that wind power can be harnessed for large companies, medium-sized cities or even small farms.

Wind power can also be used in exchange for land. Many landowners lease their property for the construction of wind turbines. This not only increases their personal income, but can also provide electricity and increased property tax income for rural communities.

The Downsides of Wind Power

Just like everything else, wind power isn't perfect, and there are downsides to using this source of renewable energy. You can turn on a light in your house any time you like because this is provided by a steady supply from the power company. But since we can't control wind, we can't turn it on and off like a light switch. When there's no wind, there is no electricity being generated.

And just like wind can vary from time to time in the same location, it can also vary between places. Some places are just windier than others. Wind turbines have also been shown to be dangerous to flying wildlife, like bats and birds. However, the potential danger of the large, spinning blades of a turbine is not as great as the danger from cars, power lines and tall buildings covered in windows.

In order for wind turbines to do the best job they can, they need to be out in the open, not hidden away behind trees or other structures. It's also more efficient to have the source of energy close to the people it will be generating that electricity for. But believe it or not, some people oppose wind turbines because they just don't like looking at them!

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