When I was reading about the environmental effects of wind turbines, I wondered if wind energy has any effects on the ozone. So, I did some research to find out if wind energy has any contribution to the larger issue of global warming.
Is wind energy a global warming issue? Wind energy does not cause global warming. If anything, the absence of pollution and harmful chemicals in the air with the use of wind turbines helps to limit global warming and reverse the damage that has already been done to the earth. Even though wind turbines are not directly linked to causing global warming, they do have other adverse effects on the environment.
Wind energy has been highly regarded as one of the most environmentally friendly resources ever since it became popular. However, it has also received its fair share of backlash over the years with rumors of producing waste and contributing to global warming.
So, what will end this back and forth dispute about the real effects of wind energy and wind turbines on the environment once and for all?
Related: Does Wind Energy Produce Waste?
The Growth of Wind Energy
The industry of wind energy has been growing at a consistent rate over the past several years. The concept of getting energy from the wind appeals to the masses because it is a clean and renewable source of electricity, as well as one of the cheapest options that are available on the market today.
It is also extremely friendly to the environment in comparison to more traditional forms of powering homes and businesses all across the globe.
The world’s population has become increasingly aware of what is happening to the environment around them and how to preserve it, which is one of the reasons why the industry is growing so exponentially right now.
Not only is wind energy cost-effective and environmentally friendly, but it has also created millions of jobs. There is a growing demand for wind turbine technicians to deliver, install, and maintain the new machines that are popping up by the dozens in various locations day in and day out.
The job market for wind turbine technicians is expected to continue to grow at an extremely high rate of 96 percent each year until 2026. The wind turbine industry has proven to be very attractive in the eyes of investors, due to the relatively fast period of return on investment and great potentials for positive profits throughout the duration of several decades.
How Wind Turbines Work
Wind energy is harnessed and converted into electricity using a machine called a wind turbine. Wind turbines are commonly found in nature within rural areas, usually planted in large fields of grass or among existing farms with cattle roaming around their bases.
Alternatively, wind turbines can also be found inside the ocean. This type of machine is regarded as an offshore turbine and extends out from the ocean off of a base that is located below the water level.
Both onshore and offshore wind turbines serve the same purpose: creating electricity from the earth’s infinite source of wind. They both consist of multiple individual components that all work together to complete these functions. One of the biggest pieces on the outside of the turbine is the tower.
The tower is the long vertical structure that holds the turbine’s blades up so it can capture the wind as effectively as possible. This piece can be constructed of solid steel shaped into a cylinder or can have an alternate pattern such as lattice that intertwines thin metal rods similar to a basket weave.
Regardless of the tower design, all wind turbines also have a foundation. The foundation can also vary in shape, size, and design depending on the type of turbine. Offshore turbines typically stand on a steel base that allows them to stand up from the surface of the water and reach the winds that constantly blow over the ocean.
Onshore turbines, however, will usually be built into the ground with a solid concrete foundation that holds it in place. Although, onshore turbines can also be built with alternative foundation patterns depending on what is convenient for the specific location in which it is built.
The two main components of every wind turbine that completes most of the actions associated with converting electricity are the nacelle and the rotor blades. As you can probably assume, the rotor blade component is the large piece in front of the turbine that rotates around the tower when the wind begins to blow in order to collect its energy.
The look of the blades is most similar to a set of airplane propellors or a spinning pinwheel. Even though the rotor blades complete the action of turning and producing energy from the wind, there are many more components that allow this to happen.
Without the parts that are located directly behind the rotor in the nacelle, the blades would have no function. Even though it might look like the wind blows and the blades begin to spin around, there is actually a lot more to it than what meets the eye.
The nacelle is a huge piece that sticks out behind the back of the rotor blades. It sits directly on top of the tower and essentially connects it to the blades. The nacelle contains hundreds of smaller components that all work together in a system to send signals forward to the turbine blades to let them know when to start and stop spinning.
This process begins when the speeds of the current winds are picked up by a small component called the anemometer. This piece usually sits on top of the nacelle and looks similar to a pair of horizontal helicopter blades.
Similar to an actual helicopter, they will begin to rotate and spin around when they are hit with the pressure of the wind. The function of this piece is to gauge the wind’s torque and send a message through the nacelle to the controller.
The controller will then send its own message to the high or low-speed shafts, depending on the current speed of the wind, and they will initiate movement outward toward the blades, allowing them to rotate and collect the wind’s energy.
The speed that the controller relays to one of the speed shafts will depend on the minimum and maximum speeds that are programmed into the turbine. When the anemometer senses a wind speed that is somewhere in between this range, it will give the controller the signal that the blades are safe to start spinning, and from there the controller will determine if they should spin at low or high speeds, depending on the corresponding speeds of the wind.
If the anemometer picks up on low wind speeds that are barely above the turbine’s minimum, the controller will notify the low-speed shaft to push the movement forward toward the blades so they can carry out the action.
The energy from the wind enters the turbine through its rotor hub in the center of the blades and is first consumed by the generator piece. Inside the generator, the wind’s energy is spun around loops of copper wire and is transformed into a different type of energy.
This type of energy is called mechanical energy, which is the result of the wind’s kinetic energy added to the turbine’s potential level of energy. During this process, electrons are given off from the copper wires that will turn the energy into electricity.
After the wind’s energy is completely transformed into an electrical form, it is then transported through to the step-up transformer where its capacity is multiplied by 5.
When the wind’s energy has been successfully passed through the entire machine and converted into electricity, it is ready to be exported from the turbine and prepared for distribution to consumers.
Wind Energy’s Positive Impact On The Environment
Wind energy has displayed a very positive impact on the environment since it has become a contender in the race to become a worldwide source of electricity. First of all, it has significantly reduced emissions of carbon and various other fossil flues, as well as a large percentage of air pollution that is caused by other methods of obtaining electricity.
There is no extensive digging or drilling into the earth that is required for installing wind turbines, so no harmful chemicals are released into the atmosphere are a result.
Instead, most wind turbines are built from the ground on top of concrete bases. Additionally, wind turbines do not require large amounts of water to cool themselves down while producing electricity as power plants do.
Overall, wind energy uses the least amount of resources while simultaneously leaving the most minimal amount of waste as possible. As the implementation of wind energy increases all around the world, the earth’s environmental conditions continue to improve.
How Does Wind Energy Contribute to the Global Warming Crisis?
There have been several rumors over the years that wind turbines have a role in the cause of global warming. It has been a common belief that when they spin their blades to collect the wind’s energy, they are actually generating heat with the constant movements they are caring out. To prove these claims false once and for all, two scientists from Harvard University performed a study to refute these exact claims.
Their objective was to find out what would happen if the United States used wind turbines as the only source of electricity in the entire country. The results of this research were that the total of all the turbines across the entire country would heat up the surface by approximately .24 degrees Celsius.
Now, it could very well be argued that this number is very high, especially for a country that is trying to do everything it can to lower global warming. At first glance, it is easy to assume that we should avert our attention away from things that will cause the earth to heat up more, but there is an explanation for why this is not such a bad result.
For starters, global warming is an epidemic that affects the entire earth including every country across the globe, not just the United States. Any temperatures that are measured within the United States alone are not considered to be global warming all on their own.
Even further, the United States is only one small area within the entire world, so even if the country were to adopt wind energy as the primary source of electricity, therefore raising the temperatures by .24 degrees Celsius, it would still not be enough heat to contribute in any significant way to global warming.
Additionally, wind turbines do not even generate heat on the earth’s surface, it just moves the heat around that already exists in the atmosphere. The air that lingers just above the ground will naturally drop in temperature and become cooler when the night time approaches at the end of every single day.
When a wind turbine is rotating near this air that exists in every area of the world, the turbine will transfer the warm air that is pushed down by its blades from the next level of the atmosphere down to combine with the colder air below it.
This action causes the temperatures to get slightly warmer in the night time when the machines are on and functioning. If the same turbine was removed from its place and that area of the earth was examined, the cool air would still be present there even without the turbine.
Wind turbines do not contribute to global warming, because the transfer of warm air does not make the entire planet hot. Since the blades of the turbine are just fanning the hot air toward the ground and causing it to blend in with the existing cool air, it is just rearranging the order that is present in the atmosphere.
Additionally, this is not a permanent action, as mentioned before. The wind turbine will not change the temperature patterns in any area no matter how long it is there and how many times it creates a small increase in temperature in the area directly below its blades.
The real cause of global warming, however, is greenhouse gases. These gases are emitted by other forms of energy like coal and fossil fuels. When the power plants release these gases into the air, they trap the heat that is given off by the sun. Without the presence of these gases in the atmosphere, the heat from the sun would diminish into space without something capturing it and it would eventually disappear.
Since these gases are present on the earth’s surface, they cause the trapped heat from the sunlight to linger near that surface, making the entire planet warm. This time, the warming effects are permanent and they are actually spreading through the planet on a real scale.
So, even though it is true that wind turbines can cause short term heating of air that lingers toward the ground underneath their blades, the alternative of fossil fuels has negatives that have long term disadvantages.
Ultimately, wind energy is a much better alternative as far as global warming goes. However, it would most likely not be sustainable for all areas of the world in order to keep an adequate balance. More specifically, wind turbines have been proven to harm endangered wildlife and various flying species of animals including wild birds and bats.
They can also cause a significant shift in the food chain within certain ecosystems. Therefore, it would not be practical to use it in every single corner of the universe, but there are alternative methods of extracting clean and renewable energy from the earth beside the use of wind turbines.
The Negative Environmental Effects Caused By Wind Energy
Some wind turbines have been reported to have certain components inside of them that are constructed with rare earth materials. These materials can be used to create magnets and lasers that might go inside various types of wind turbines.
These rare earth materials are mined in and imported from China, which controls almost all of the rare minerals in the world. Although these elements are scattered throughout the earth’s crust in multiple locations, many countries choose not to extract them from the ground, which is why
China has possession of almost one hundred percent of the market. The same materials are restricted for mining in the United States, even if there are trace amounts below the ground, due to the adverse effects they have on the environment. So, what effect do they have on the environment that they come from?
Although the United States may not see the immediate effects of the harmful materials that are used in their wind turbines, these changes are reflected in another environment across the world. Baotou, China is home to one of the biggest toxic lakes in the world, which was created by the development of technology and manufacturing machines with rare earth materials including the construction of wind turbines.
The Baotou region is full of mines and factories that produce magnets, televisions, and handheld electronics. In fact, the Bayan Obo mines hold 70 percent of all of these elements that exist in the entire world.
The toxic lakes created near the mining regions are full of dark black dust and chemical waste that was extracted from the rare earth materials. Essentially, each time even one wind turbine is manufactured and sent to the United States, it adds to pollution and creates a negative environmental impact in the Chinese cities they came from.
To compare the nuclear industry in America to wind energy, nuclear power plants reach numbers of approximately 5 million pounds of nuclear fuel on a yearly bases. So, if wind energy surpasses that number at a value of 6 million, it is possible that the wind industry could actually be doing more harm than its counterpart.
In the same year, nuclear energy sources accounted for close to one-fifth of total electricity use in the United States. On the other hand, wind energy came in at just under 4 percent of energy consumption.
However, it can be argued that wind turbines do not have as many adverse effects on the environment as it may seem. An esteemed physicist Amory Lovins wrote an informational piece on the topic that highlighted rare earth materials only accounting for about 2 percent of all wind turbines in the United States.
He claimed that the same functions rare earth materials perform inside turbines can be replaced with other types of motors without magnets, proposing software and electronics made of silicon, which is a more widely available and non-toxic element of the earth.
Turbines without magnets can carry out all normal functions, and although some manufacturers of wind turbines choose to use imported magnets derived from toxic chemical materials, it does not mean that it is necessary for all of them to work.
In addition, wind turbines have been proven to have adverse effects on various ecosystems across the world, including endangered species of wildlife.
The most frequent reports of animal deaths caused by wind turbines involve flying species like birds and bats. There have been numerous studies performed on this subject in order to highlight the connection between wind turbines and bird and bat fatalities.
The species that are most affected by these dangerous machines are bats by a long run. It has been reported that millions of bats a year suffer deaths from the spinning blades of wind turbines or the intense pressure they create in the atmosphere. Even worse, wind turbines account for over three-fourths of all bat deaths across the entire globe every single year.
These statistics were proven by the results of a study that was completed in recent years in the Appalachian Mountain region. A group of scientists tracked and studied the flying patterns of bats and calculated the fatalities that occurred when the animals came in contact with the machines.
Similarly, hundreds of thousands of bird deaths have been recorded as each year goes by that were caused by the blades of spinning wind turbines. These machines account for a staggering total of 300,000 bird deaths annually.
Unfortunately, most people involved in the wind energy industry have failed to acknowledge this issue, due to the fact that the turbines do not account for nearly as large of a percentage of bird deaths will all other causes considered. In fact, it has been proven scientifically that birds are hundreds of times more likely to be killed between the paws of a common house cat than the blades of a wind turbine.
Despite all the controversy that surrounds wind energy and turbines’ negative effects on the environment, the scientific evidence on the topic proves the contrary. While it is true that wind turbines have some negative effects, the positives definitely outweigh them.
How can wind turbines become more friendly to the environment?
Wind turbines can become more friendly to the environment beginning with the elimination of rare earth materials in their components. It has been proven that these elements are not necessary for the turbines to function, so there is no need to cause more pollution in China for no reason.
Secondly, some changes can be made in order to more adequately protect wildlife. These changes include painting the turbines a different color that is less likely to attract flying animals toward the deadly spinning blades when they happen to fly through the area.
Additionally, the turbines can be turned off during certain times where bats are most likely to come in contact with them.
How does wind energy compare to other sources of electricity?
Wind energy is superior to other sources of electricity in many ways, the first one being the environmental benefits it comes with. It is a natural and renewable source of energy, so no damage is done to the nature around the wind turbines as they are generating electricity.
Wind energy also has financial benefits, because it is cheaper than almost any other energy source that exists on the market. On average, the cost of wind energy is equal to about half the price of other more traditional sources of electricity.
What is the future of wind energy?
At the current rate, it is improving, the future of wind energy is looking very positive at this point in time. The job market will continue to increase, moving steadily uphill at a rate of 96 percent until the year 2026. As more wind turbines are being built worldwide, more countries are adopting wind energy as their primary source of electricity.
With some countries more advanced in the process than others, Sweden has publicly announced the ambitious goal of becoming the first country that relies on one hundred percent natural energy. Time will only tell what the wind energy industry will be able to achieve in the future.
If you’re serious about learning more about wind energy, I recommend the Wind Energy Handbook on Amazon. This book is great for both students and professionals, and it holds invaluable information on the subject of wind power.