Wind Energy Advantages and Disadvantages

Wind Energy Advantages and Disadvantages

Wind is a seemingly ideal fuel source that could ease many of the world’s most  pressing problems. Like all energy sources, small wind power has its advantages  and disadvantages.

The Advantages of Wind Energy   

Although residential wind turbines and their energy source, the wind, have a few  downsides, wind energy is an abundant and renewable resource. We won’t run out  of wind for the foreseeable future, unlike oil and natural gas.   

Small-scale wind energy could also help decrease our reliance on declining and  costly supplies of oil — if electricity generated by wind is used to power electric or  plug-in electric hybrid cars and trucks, displacing gasoline, which is refined from  oil. It could help all countries create cleaner and safer energy at a fraction of the environmental cost of conventional electrical energy production.

Wind energy can help nations reduce global  warming and devastating changes in our climate. Wind can also help homeowners  and businesses do their part in solving other costly environmental problems such  as acid rain.   

Another benefit of wind energy is that, unlike oil, coal and nuclear energy, the  wind is not owned by major energy companies or controlled by foreign nations. An increasing reliance on wind energy could therefore ease international political tension.

Wind is also a free resource. The cost of wind is not subject to price increases. A  wind- and solar-powered future might be one subject to less inflation. This is not  to say that wind energy will be free of price increases. While the fuel itself (the  wind) is free, the price of wind generators is likely to increase.

That’s because it  takes energy to extract and process minerals to make the steel and copper needed  for wind turbines and towers. It also takes energy to make turbines and towers and  ship and install them. As the price of conventional fuels and raw materials increases, the cost of wind energy also will go up.   

Yet another advantage of wind-generated electricity is that it uses existing infrastructure, the electrical grid, and existing technologies. A transition to wind energy  could occur fairly seamlessly.   

In remote locations, wind or  wind and solar electric hybrid systems can be cheaper than conventional power,  which requires the installation of costly electric lines that transport electricity from  power plants to end users.

The Disadvantages of Wind Energy 

Small wind’s disadvantages are few and often grossly exaggerated or only perceived problems. They include wind’s variability, bird mortality, aesthetics, property values and unwanted sound. Some people are concerned about wind being  more site specific than solar electricity. There’s even concern about ice falling from  turbines after ice storms and interference with radio and televisions signals.   

Variability and Reliability of the Wind   

Perhaps the most significant “problem” with small wind is that the wind does not  blow 100 percent of the time in most locations. Wind is a variable resource, to be  sure. It’s not available 24 hours a day like coal or oil. In fact, a wind turbine may  operate for four days in a row, producing a significant amount of electricity, then  sit idle for two days — or a week.   

Wind resources vary seasonally, too. In most locations, winds are typically  strongest in the fall, winter and early spring, but decline during the summer. Wind  even varies during the course of a day. Winds may blow in the morning, die down for a few hours, then pick up later in the afternoon and blow throughout the night.   

Even though wind is a variable resource, it is not unreliable. Just like solar energy, you can count on a certain amount of wind at a given location during the year.  With smart planning and careful design, you can design a wind system to meet  your electrical needs.   

Wind’s variable nature can be managed to our benefit by installing batteries to  store surplus electricity in off-grid systems. The stored electricity can power a  home or office when the winds fail to blow.   

Surplus electricity can also be stored on the electrical grid in many systems.  Thus, when a wind-electric system is producing more power than a home or busi-  ness is using, the excess is fed onto the grid. In times of shortfall, electricity is  drawn from the grid.   

Wind’s variable nature can also be offset by coupling small wind systems with  other renewable energy sources, for example, solar-electric systems. Such systems  are referred to as hybrid systems. Solar-electric systems (or photovoltaic [PV]  systems) generate electricity when sunlight strikes solar cells in solar modules.

Hybrid systems can be sized to provide a steady year-round supply of electricity. Residential wind-generated electricity can also be supplemented by small gas or diesel  generators.   

Bird Mortality   

One perceived problem with wind power is bird mortality. Unfortunately, this issue  has been blown way out of proportion. Although a bird may occasionally perish in  the spinning blades of a residential wind machine, this is an extremely rare occurrence.

The only documented bird mortality of any significance occurs at large commercial-scale wind turbines — but even then, the number of deaths is relatively small.  Commercial wind turbines kill an estimated 50,000 birds per year.

wind energy advantages and disadvantages

While this may  sound like a lot, this number pales in comparison to other lethal forces, among  them domestic cats, automobiles, windows in buildings, and communication towers. All in all, cats are probably the most lethal “force” that birds encounter. Scientists estimate that our beloved cats kill about 270 million birds a year nationwide  — though the number is very likely much higher.   


Although many people view small wind turbines as things of great beauty, others  contend that they detract from natural beauty. Ironically, those who find wind turbines to be unsightly often ignore the great many forms of visual blight in the landscape, among them cell phone towers, water towers, electric transmission lines,  radio towers and billboards.

To be fair, there are differences between a wind tower  and common sources of visual pollution. For one, a wind turbine’s spinning  blades call attention to these machines. Another is that we’ve grown used to the  ubiquitous electric lines and radio towers. As a result, people often fail to see them  anymore. Given the opportunity to oppose a structure in their “viewshed” (for  example, at a public hearing that may be required for permission to install a residential wind system) neighbors will often speak up in opposition.

Proximity to Homes and Property Values   

Critics raise legitimate concerns when it comes to the placement of wind machines  near their property. Although most of the issues over proximity have been raised by  individuals and groups that oppose large commercial wind farms, residential systems can also cause a stir among neighbors. Some may be concerned about aesthetics. Others may worry about safety.   

To avoid problems, we recommend installing machines in locations out of sight  and hearing of neighbors. Safety concerns are typically related to tower collapse —  an extremely rare event that is always the result of bad design and improper installation.

Even though homeowner’s insurance should cover damage to individuals  and property, it is best to place a wind turbine and tower well away from your  neighbors’ property lines.

Unwanted Sound   

Opponents of wind energy and apprehensive neighbors sometimes voice concerns  about unwanted sound from residential wind machines. Small wind  turbines do produce sound, and as the wind speed increases, sound output increases. Sound is produced primarily by the spinning blades and alternators. The  faster a turbine spins, the more sound it produces.   

You can reduce unwanted sound by selecting a quieter, low-rpm wind turbine  rather than a louder, high-rpm wind turbine. If you are concerned about sound,  make this a high priority as you shop for a turbine and let your neighbors know you  are sensitive to this issue.   

Wind turbines have governing mechanisms, systems that slow down the machines when winds get too strong to protect them from damage. Different governing systems result in different sound levels.

When researching your options, we recommend that you listen to the turbines  you’re considering buying in a variety of wind conditions, including those that require governing.

To reduce sound at ground level, be sure to mount your turbine on a tall tower.  Suitable tower heights, are usually 80 to 120 feet. A residential wind turbine mounted high on a tower catches the smoother and stronger  — and hence most productive — winds. This strategy also helps reduce sound levels on the ground because sound dissipates quickly over distance.   

Residential (and commercial) wind machines are also much quieter than many  people suspect because the sounds they make are partially drowned out by ambient sounds on windy days. Rustling leaves and wind blowing past one’s ears often  drown out much of the sound produced by a residential wind turbine.   

Sound is measured in two ways — by loudness and frequency. Loudness is measured in decibels (dB). Frequency is the pitch. A low note sounded on a guitar has  a low frequency or pitch. A high note has a high frequency. The average background noise in a house is about 50 dB. Nearby trees on a breezy day measure  about 55 to 60 dB. Most of today’s residential wind turbines perform very near  ambient levels over most of their operating range.   

Even though the intensity of sound produced by a wind generator may be the  same as ambient sound, the frequency may differ. As a result, wind turbine sounds  may be distinguishable from ambient noises, even though they are not louder.  You’ll hear a swooshing sound.

In other words, while the sound of a wind turbine  can be picked out of surrounding noise if a conscious effort is made to hear it,  home-sized wind turbines are not the noisy contraptions that some people make  them out to be.   

Site Specific   

Yet another criticism of small wind is that it is more site specific — or restricted —  than solar energy.    To understand what this means, we begin by pointing out that there are good  solar areas and good wind areas. In a good solar region, most people with a good  southern exposure can access the same amount of sun.

In a windy area, however,  hills and valleys or stands of trees can dramatically reduce the amount of wind that  blows across a piece of property. Therefore, even if you live in an area with sufficient winds, you may be unable to tap into the wind’s energy because of topography or nearby forests or stands of tall trees. That’s what critics mean when they  say that wind energy is more site specific than solar.   

That said, we should point out that solar resources also vary. If you live in a forest in a sunny location, for example, you’ll have a lot less solar energy than a nearby neighbor whose home is in a field. In addition, homeowners can access the  wind at less-than-optimum sites by installing turbines on tall towers. Tall towers  help you overcome topographical and other barriers.   

Ice Throw   

Like trees and power lines, wind turbines can ice up under certain conditions. Ice  falling off the blades is known as ice throw, and is a concern that may arise during  zoning hearings on residential wind turbines.    While ice builds up on blades and wind turbine towers during ice storms, it is  typically deposited in very thin sheets. When the blades are warmed by sunlight,  the ice tends to break up into small pieces, not huge dangerous chunks, and drop  to the ground.

Ice buildup on the blades of a wind turbine dramatically reduces the speed at  which a turbine can spin. It’s a little like trying to drive a car with four flat tires. As a  result, ice is not thrown from a turbine, it falls around the base of the tower — just  as it does from trees and power lines.    Any prudent person would stay away from the tower base when ice is shed from  the blades, as they would from trees or power lines covered with ice warming in the  sun.

On the rare occasion that ice builds up on a wind turbine, experienced wind turbine operators shut down their machines until the Sun or warmer temperatures  melt the ice since they cannot generate electricity spinning at such low revolutions  per minute anyway.   

Interference with Telecommunications   

Some opponents of wind energy raise the issue of interference with telecommunications signals. This is simply not a problem. Turbines for homes  and small businesses have small blades that do not interfere with such signals. 

Moreover, the blades of modern wind turbines are made out of materials that are  “transparent” to telecommunications signals. As a result, small wind turbines are  often installed to power remote telecommunications sites.

Telecommunication  equipment wouldn’t be installed in such locations if there were a problem with  interference.   

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