Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Power of The Wind

figure 1 Wind Turbine
           Everything in the world revolves around the use of various types of energy, such as electricity, fossil fuels, nuclear, solar, or even food energy. The expanding and growing of cities increases the demand for energy to run industries and households. All of the world’s energy needs cannot be met by fossil fuels, since they are a limited resource; therefore, the need to find alternative energy resources arises. One effective alternative energy source is wind power, which has been shown to be more productive than other sources like solar power. Wind energy can help the global energy crisis while not polluting the environment.
            Wind energy is the use of the earth's natural winds and converting it to electricity. This process uses wind turbines, which convert the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical power that can be used for various purposes, such as generating electricity. Typical wind turbines (shown in figure 1) use blades that look like airplane propellers that spin when they are positioned in the correct direction orientated with the wind. The video shown below further explains the workings of a wind turbine in detail. 
Wind turbine farms can be found all over the world, including on land and in the ocean. There have been debates, since the development of wind energy, about whether onshore or offshore wind farms are the most efficient and most environmentally friendly. Onshore farms seem more practical to most people because they can be closer to more cities, but there are many drawbacks to onshore wind farms, including the careful planning that needs to be done in order to place them in the most prime places. Planners must take into consideration location, position and amount within a region, distance from electrical transmission lines, and the noise concern (McWilliam). Wind farms cannot be built within close vicinity to a city because it might affect the city's noise ordinances and act as a nuisance to people. This also causes a problem since most electrical transmission lines are close to larger cities; therefore, the wind farm’s power generated as electricty cannot be transmitted to cities as easily. Although wind farms are all very difficult to build in densely populated regions, it can be done; Toronto, Canada built a turbine in the heart of the city (McWilliam). Land based wind farms are the traditional way of utilizing the winds, but these farms do not harness the strength of the wind as well as a wind farm based along or off the coastlines. 
figure 2 Wind power distribution
image borrowed from
          The main problem with onshore wind farms is that the majority of wind power is along the coastal lines (as shown in figure 2). This shows why offshore wind farms (shown in figure 3 below) have many more benefits than onshore wind farms. Winds tend to be stronger, faster, and even more consistent offshore,and also at lower heights than onshore. They make more sense because they can be installed closer to costal centers where there is a large electricity demand. Offshore wind farms are also out of the way of land obstacles, such as roads and cities. They can alleviate the long distances to transmission lines because offshore wind farms can be built closer to the large energy demands (Dvorak). These benefits help to explain the push to create more offshore wind farms.
figure 3 Offshore wind farm
picture borrowed from
            Although there are many benefits to offshore wind farms there are also some disadvantages. The main disadvantage is the cost, since onshore wind farms cost about half of offshore wind power per megawatt hour, according to The Economist. These costs come from a variety of installation factors. Building on the sea floor is more expensive than building on land and as of now can only be done at shallow depths. The electrical transmission cable used underwater is also more expensive. The general installation is also more difficult because the weather can change more easily and the wave conditions change constantly, which causes delays and lengthens construction (Dvorak).
figure 4 Approved Offshore Wind Farm
            These weaknesses of offshore wind energy have not stopped certain countries from building offshore. According to Esteban, the first sea wind turbine was built in Sweden in 1990, and was a single turbine creating 220 kilowatts, located 350 meters from the coast. This wind turbine was a groundbreaking moment in the development of more renewable energy resources, since it proved to the world that offshore wind turbines could be built and could be efficient. Much of Europe and the rest of the world followed Sweden’s example of offshore wind energy potential (Esteban). While the rest of the world created 4,619 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity, as of June 2012, the United States had not yet built its first offshore wind turbine, according to Michael Conathan on The United States has huge potential for wind power that is estimated to exceed 907 gigawatts. As a result, it is necessary for research to be done to be able to harness all of this energy potential (Leung). The U.S. Department of Energy has allocated $168 million for seven different projects for the research of offshore wind energy potential in the United States for the next six years. So far the government has only approved a few offshore wind farms, but they have yet to be built. One of the projects that was approved recently is on the Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound (shown in figure 4), where 130 wind turbines will eventually create up to 420 megawatts of energy,  miles from the nearest shore. This location was carefully chose in relation to the entire United States' wind powers. This farm was planned in a good location, as seen in figure 2, since winds on the east coast are very strong. It was designed to take care of three quarters of the Cape and Islands' electricity needs (Leung). The fact that wind energy can provide much of the nation's energy needs could lessen or help eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels.

            Fossil fuels are a limited resource in the world and are constantly diminishing, hence the need for renewable energy resources such as wind energy. Fossil fuels are detrimental to the environment because they pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Wind turbines do not pollute the atmosphere at all, nor do they create any radioactive wastes that may be harmful (Leung). According to the Montana Environmental Information Center, in Montana wind energy is is actually less expensive than coal. The costs for wind energy are constantly decreasing because of more research being done to understand how to make them more efficient. This is why the nation should push for more research and development in wind energy potential, whether it is onshore or offshore.
            Many organizations are doing research on wind energy, but research always requires monetary funding. To help the environment and decrease the need for fossil fuels, we need the nation’s help. What can we do to help? We can contact our local, state, and federal governments and express the communities' desire for a better environment through the installation of wind farms in the surrounding areas. We create more support for certain organizations and programs that are doing research in wind energy, some affiliated with the U.S. Department of Energy. Ames Laboratory in Ames, Iowa is doing research in replacements for rare earth metals that are needed in producing wind turbines. Rare earth metals are elements that are needed for many things being built, but they create an economic and political problem since they are mostly found in China. If the Ames Lab can figure out alternatives for these, America will not have to depend on rare earths from China any more. They are also looking into how wind farms located around crops affects them, including the benefit of the wind turbines fending off fungi. National Renewable Energy Laboratory is doing research in domestic offshore wind potential, and the differences in the size of the turbine compared with the power output. The University of Houston was granted $2.3 million to create a testing facility for composite materials to make offshore wind turbines stronger and more resistant to harsh conditions. All of these organizations and more are working towards the development of wind energy so that it will be more efficient. We can help these agencies by donating money for their research or by bringing more awareness of their research there so that they get more recognition and funding. We could create campaigns to make the government realize how necessary it is to create more wind farms and elect politicians that support wind farms. There are many ways that the people can help their environment in this way.
            Thus, wind energy is how we can save the planet by diminishing the global energy crisis and improving the environment. Wind farms can be found all over the world, including the United States.  The wind farms found in the United States are all located on land and require careful planning. Other countries have both onshore and offshore wind farms. Offshore wind farms do not cause many problems for large cities. Offshore wind turbines create more power, but they are much more expensive; therefore the United States is doing much research to make them more efficient and less expensive to make. We can help wind energy to be a bigger source of renewable energy by funding the research groups and bring the need of more wind farms to the attention of the government. Wind energy can revolutionize power and electricity.

Works Cited
Dvorak, Michael J., Cristina L. Archer, and Mark Z. Jacobson. "California Offshore Wind Energy   
         Potential." Renewable Energy 35.6 (2010): 1244-254. Iowa State University. Web. 7 Apr. 2013.
Esteban, M. Dolores, J. Javier Diez, Jose S. López, and Vicente Negro. "Why Offshore Wind

         Energy?" Renewable Energy 36.2 (2011): 444-50. Iowa State University. Web. 7 Apr. 2013.
Leung, Dennis Y.C., and Yang Yuan. "Wind Energy Development and Its Environmental
         Impact: A Review." Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 16.1 (2012): 1031-039. Iowa     
         State University. Web. 7 Apr. 2013.
McWilliam, M.K., G.C. Van Kooten, and C. Crawford. "A Method for Optimizing the Location
         of Wind Farms." Renewable Energy 48 (2012): 287-99. Iowa State University. Web. 7 Apr.