Many parts of the world are dotted with tall windmills called turbines which transform nature’s breezes into usable clean, green energy – or so we have been told. But is wind energy really working out for the planet?
Advocates of alternative power sources claim that wind energy offers loads of benefits, including:
- The potential to provide 20 times more juice that everyone on Earth needs, even during electrical power plant outages.
- The wind is a renewable resource that will never run dry.
- A wind turbine can power 600 American homes and is therefore considered space-efficient.
- Operational costs have always been low and are declining further.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that wind power comprised 6.6 percent of total U.S. electricity generation and about 39 percent of electricity generation from renewable energy in 2018.
In 2017, the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) trumpeted the news that, “the proliferation of wind energy into the global power market continues at a furious pace, after it was revealed that more than 54 gigawatts of clean renewable wind power was installed across the global market last year.”
The American Wind Energy Assocation said that a 262-foot-tall wind turbine is composed of a central tubular steel tower which supports a hub with three attached fiberglass blades and a nacelle which houses the shaft, gearbox, generator, and controls. Energy is generated by wind speeds of 6-9 mph (miles per hour) and can generate usable amounts of electricity over 90 percent of the time.
All of the above facts and figures sound great and groovy – very good for the planet’s ecology – but the reality is quite different. Worldwide, wind energy represents such a small contribution that it is closer to zero than even 1 percent.
In other words, energy produced by the wind is negligible. The International Energy Agency’s 2016 Key Renewables Trends showed that wind accounted for 0.46 percent of global energy consumption in 2014.
It might surprise you to know that modern technology has just about maxed out the energy potential of wind turbines:
“Do not take refuge in the idea that wind turbines could become more efficient. There is a limit to how much energy you can extract from a moving fluid, the Betz limit, and wind turbines are already close to it. Their effectiveness (the load factor, to use the engineering term) is determined by the wind that is available, and that varies at its own sweet will from second to second, day to day, year to year.”
Other disadvantages of wind turbines include:
- The wind is never constant and some parts of the world are too calm turbines to be a viable energy source.
- Making and installing wind turbines is quite expensive so it takes a long time to realize any cost savings.
- Wind turbines kill wildlife such as birds and bats which fly into the spinning blades.
- Neighbors complain of nuisance noise.
- Some people think that wind turbines are ugly and detract from the natural landscape.
- Wind turbines require deep concrete foundations which impact the environment.
Wind turbines require about 200 times more material (steel, fiberglass, and concrete) per unit of capacity than a modern combined cycle gas turbine. Since steel and concrete are typically produced by burning coal, any “green” energy savings go right out the window.
Wyoming wind farms (large arrays of many turbines) are dealing with the problem of how to get rid of the growing number of broken fiberglass blades that are piling up. The Casper Regional Landfill is receiving 900 useless blades for burial between now and the end of spring in 2020.
Unlike the steel components of a wind turbine, the fiberglass blades can’t be refurbished or repaired. They can’t be crushed like an old automobile because, according to a landfill spokesperson, “Our crushing equipment is not big enough to crush them.”
Some wind turbine blades span 300 feet. Before delivery, the landfill cuts the propellers into smaller pieces for space-saving stacking during transportation for environmentally responsible disposal.
A wind turbine blade lasts about 20 years before it must be replaced. A projected 47 million tons of blade waste will clutter international landfills within the next few decades.
A 2017 scientific study revealed that “The blades, one of the most important components in the wind turbines, made with composite, are currently regarded as unrecyclable.”
The study authors went on to deny claims that turbines are good for the environment:
“Although wind energy is often claimed to provide clean renewable energy without any emissions during operation (U.S. Department of Energy, 2015), a detailed ecological study may indicate otherwise even for this stage.”
A separate study from the same year indicated that the durability of wind turbine blades may be a consumer show-stopper:
“If the industry cannot come up with more sustainable manufacturing and disposal processes, public acceptance of wind energy would decline if the public becomes aware of these issues.”
The silence from mainstream media outlets regarding the enormous waste problem that exists today and will only get worse over time is deafening.
Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate wind power as a desirable and viable global energy source? To quote the famous singer/songwriter Bob Dylan:
“You don’t need a weatherman to tell which way the wind blows.”