Wind energy is the process by which wind is used to generate electricity. A form of solar energy, the wind is a result of uneven heating in the atmosphere, irregularities on the earth’s surface, and the earth’s rotation. Modified by the terrain, bodies of water, and vegetation cover, wind flow is harvested by turbines and used to generate power. But how does wind energy stack up against other forms of traditional energy? Is it cost effective, efficient, or practical? This sample critical essay explores this question.
The price of wind energy
There are three things that affect the cost of electricity from wind energy: capacity factor, capital costs, and operating costs. Capacity factor refers to how much energy can be generated from the wind, which is determined by the quality and strength of the wind resources available. Advancements in technology have increased the capacity factor, including longer and lighter turbine blades and taller wind towers (“The Cost of Wind Energy in the U.S.”).
Capital costs refers to the total amount of money required, is mostly taken up by the cost of wind turbines. The cost of the turbines alone can make up more than seventy percent of the cost of land-based wind projects (“The Cost of Wind Energy”). The recent decrease in the cost of wind energy has been primarily a result of large reductions in wind turbine costs.
According to the Department of Energy:
“Among a large sample of wind projects installed in 2012, the capacity-weighted average installed cost stood at nearly $1,940/kW, down almost $200/kW from the reported average cost in 2011 and down almost $300/kW from the reported average cost in both 2009 and 2010.” (“The Cost of Wind Energy”).
The operating cost is the cost to provide power until the end of the contract once the turbines are delivering electricity to the power grid. Most contracts are for twenty years or longer, and during this time it is necessary for staff to monitor and maintain the turbines to ensure peak performance. Other costs that can occur come from permits, site-specific characteristics, logistics, the cost of labor, and other factors.
Many agree that the production of any type of energy impacts the economy, and using wind energy would be financially responsible and cost effective. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind energy is one of the most affordable forms of electricity and can offer lower costs than other possible resources (“The Cost of Wind Energy”). Promisingly, the cost of wind energy in the future is easily predicted and will remain low.
Improvements in turbine technology have reduced the already affordable costs and have allowed consumers and utility services to lock in low electricity rates through twenty and thirty-year contracts (Goggin). These contracts, known as Power Purchase Agreements, secure these inexpensive prices for decades and are even costing customers less and less every year.
The efficiency of wind power
The efficiency of wind energy is measured can be measured in several ways, including cost, intermittency, and comparison with other energy sources. For the cost of wind energy, the wind itself is free; the price comes in when manufacturing and installation expenses are considered (“Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy”). These costs are not cheap and the upfront cost of a wind project has the tendency to be prohibitive. The price is much lower, however, once the wind farm has been developed, the turbines are expected to have at least a twenty-year lifespan and do not require very much maintenance at all.
The intermittency of wind energy is another measure of its efficiency. The wind itself is virtually free and it will not ever run out. Though it is completely and totally renewable, it is not available at all times and can certainly blow and different speeds at different times. This causes the power generated to be inconsistent, as turbines usually do not begin to generate energy until the wind speeds reach about ten miles per hour and reach maximum power output at about thirty-three miles per hour (Williams).
If wind speeds reach over fifty miles per hour, the turbines will shut down. Also affecting the intermittency of wind energy is the positioning of the turbines. It is obviously ideal for the turbines to be put in a place where they receive maximum wind exposure. Modern technologies combined with research have allowed for turbines to be placed in positions with optimum wind conditions (Williams). There is no way to guarantee the wind supply available, but wind projects can be planned so that the available wind is maximized.
Comparing wind efficiency to other energy options
Finally, another way to measure the efficiency of wind energy is to compare it to other power sources. The amount of electricity that can be produced by modern wind turbines is dependent on wind speed. According to the American Wind Energy Association, turbines at typical locations within the Midwestern United States should run between sixty-five and ninety percent of the time, generating thirty percent of the theoretical maximum output (Williams).
This number, called the load factor, is very different from conventional power stations. While the average is fifty percent, the number can vary between forty and eighty percent, dependent on the type of fuel and other factors (Williams). While the cost and ecological strain are much lower than other energy sources, the load factor is typically higher for other power sources than with wind energy.
When it comes to using a wind turbine to provide power for an individual home, the prospect is very similar. The logistics of cost and efficiency are the same in conjunction with other, more traditional power sources. The benefit of using wind energy for an individual home is that greatly reduces the dependency on traditional energy sources. Wind turbines are a great alternative energy supply and can create more energy efficient homes for rural areas; since the turbines can be quite large and often generate noise, they are typically unsuited for urban and more densely-populated areas.
Wind energy has its advantages and disadvantages, much like every other energy source in use. The cost of wind energy is much lower than with other forms of energy, like gasoline and coal. In addition, it also has the added benefit of a decreased strain on the environment. The main disadvantage of wind energy is its intermittency. While there are ways to combat this disadvantage, it would require more money, maintenance, and scientific advancement before it could be fully eliminated.
“Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy”. Energy.Gov. U.S. Department of Energy. Web. 18 June 2015.
“The Cost of Wind Energy in the U.S.” American Wind Energy Association. Seimen’s Energy Inc., 2013. Web. 12 June 2015.
“Wind Energy Basics.” Wind Energy Basics. Wind Energy Development, n.d. Web. 18 June 2015.
Edmunds, Donna Rachel. “Study: Wind turbines are ‘expensive, unreliable and inefficient”. Breitbart. Breitbart, 27 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 June 2015.
Goggin, Michael. “Fact Check: Wind Power Is a Cost-effective Way to Reduce Emissions.” Into the Wind. AWEA, 30 May 2014. Web. 18 June 2015.
Nelson, Arthur. “Wind power is cheapest energy, EU analysis finds”. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 13 Oct. 2014. Web, 16 June 2015.
Williams, Laura. “Efficiency of Wind Energy.” LoveToKnow. LoveToKnow Corp., 2013. Web. 18 June 2015.