Large wind turbines are a good source of renewable and relatively clean energy. They have captured the attention of many environmental groups lately as a very realistic new alternative to currently used energy production techniques. Let’s see how they compare to current energy production methods.
The way we produce most of our electricity these days can hardly be called environmentally friendly. Coal fueled power generators belch thousands of pounds of pollutants into the air every year. The mining necessary to fuel one of these stations can devastate vast areas of land, transforming it into barren wasteland. Nuclear power plants produce cleaner energy, but have the potential of creating a much bigger disaster if nuclear meltdown should occur. Even hydroelectric systems cause damage to the surrounding eco system with their dams and sluice gates.
With the “green” movement in recent years, people have turned their attention to more modern approaches to energy production. These days we have set our sights on clean, renewable energy sources. Let’s look at how the different sustainable energy sources stack up.
Some countries in Europe have been developing exciting new ways to harness the energy of the tides. These tidal stations work quite well, but the technology is in its infancy. There are also concerns over the effects it may have on habitat. Although wave energy might be a viable option in the future, there is still the obvious disadvantage that this technology relies completely on proximity to a tidal body of water. Inland areas cannot take advantage of this type of energy collection.
Solar panels are probably one of the first things people think of when it comes to renewable energy. These big, heavy, expensive solar panels rely on delicate photovoltaic cells that capture a very minimal amount of energy. The ground area necessary for substantial energy generation can be immense. In order for solar panels to produce sufficient energy, the panels have to be spread out across a wide area, and this can disrupt many animal habitats and plant life. The cost to benefit ratio of this energy method is low, making it a poor option.
Something like a windmill doesn’t require as much space to produce energy. They can be put on the tops of skyscrapers, for instance. They don’t fail if the sun is behind a cloud, and they won’t break easily. They can quickly be adjusted to face the optimal direction for wind energy production, unlike photovoltaic arrays which are typically static.
Windmill technology is extremely old, and we have worked with it for generations in various ways. The basic physical premise behind the machine is well understood, and has not changed much in centuries. They are also able to be used anywhere there may be substantial air currents, and do not require a body of water.
If these things were used at a building specific level, a great deal of the power needs of a city could be met. With generating vanes atop each massive office building, the skyscrapers could at least be able to run their own elevators and lights.
As we move toward cleaner and more renewable energy sources to meet our ever increasing power needs, wind turbines are beginning to stand out as some of the better solutions. With a relatively cheaper price tag and a smaller environmental footprint than its closest alternatives, this may very well be the technology to get excited about if you are interested in the future of our energy supply.
Cory Sober is the IT Director for UpWind Solutions, a full-service operations and maintenance provider for utility-scale wind farms. He is part of a highly trained team focused on maximizing long-term productivity of wind turbines, and as a result, delivering a higher return on investment for wind energy projects.