Wind turbines and their positive effects on the environment

We have all seen traditional windmills that were found abundantly in the nineteenth century, but when did the idea turn into a wind turbine? This transformation happened shortly after the need for energy was on the rise. 

Windmills branched out from ancient Holland and made their way to the United States. In the 1900s, windmills were modified to provide more energy-efficient solutions.

Wind turbines were formulated specifically for minimizing the dependency on fossil fuels and keep the process of power generation safe for the environment.

Let’s dive into the concepts of these intriguing machines to better understand what they are and how they have more positive effects than other types of energy methods. 

A brief history

Wind History

Windmills have successfully transformed into wind turbines, but how have wind turbines evolved over time? There is currently 75 percent more power generation capacity from onshore and offshore turbines than there was two decades ago. 

In 1977, the capacity for both types of turbines was 7.5 gigawatts whereas in 2018 it was 574 gigawatts. That’s a considerable increase in power capacity. Also, between the years 2009 and 2013, wind power generation had nearly doubled.

Out of all the renewable energy sources, wind power generates approximately sixteen percent of the world’s electricity.

What are wind turbines?

Before learning about the benefits of a wind turbine, it is useful to know some essential background information. Here are some facts to get us going:

  • Wind power has been in use for decades now.
  • Wind turbines take kinetic energy from wind and turn it into mechanical energy.
  • The average wind turbine height is 30 meters.
  • Rotor radius refers to the radius of the turbine blades; the larger the radius the more capacity the turbine has.
  • Turbines do not need large wind forces; they can produce energy even with quick and calm winds.
  • A wind plant consists of several wind turbines placed together for industrial applications.
  • Industrial turbines can produce up to 8 Megawatts power.
  • Wind turbines can also serve as a stand-alone device, such as at homes or farms.
  • A small wind turbine can be used in the home to significantly minimize energy costs.
  • There are two main types of turbines based on location: onshore and offshore.
  • Offshore turbines have more power generation potential than onshore ones.

We know that the turbine converts kinetic energy into mechanical energy, but how exactly does this work? Following is a walkthrough of the main parts of the energy conversion process.

How the process works

Wind Turbine

Here are the following main steps in the conversion of wind to mechanical energy, and then finally electricity:

  1. Moving wind rotates turbine blades or vanes.
  2. The vanes on the turbine harvest the kinetic energy.
  3. The motor is connected through a rotor, which consists of either two or three rotating vanes.
  4. The rotating vanes provide further rotation to the motor.
  5. The motor provides mechanical energy which is then converted to electrical energy through a generator.
  6. This electrical energy provides power for domestic and industrial areas.

We can understand the operation of a turbine if we consider the reverse operation of a fan. A fan uses electricity and blows out the wind. On the contrary, a windmill uses wind and generates electricity.

A source of renewable energy

Wind energy has become quite popular since it is a clean, sustainable source of renewable energy. There are no concerns about pollution or toxic wastes with this type of energy. Wind energy is a highly useful and practical alternative for large-scale energy production due to its abundance and affordability.

The costs for installing wind turbines are also decreasing each year. Turbine capacity for generating power has also increased over the years, starting from 0.05 megawatts in the 1980s and currently giving from 2 to 5 megawatts power.

The positive effects of using wind energy

There is a multitude of benefits of using wind power. Unlike fossil fuels, wind energy is not harmful to the environment or to humans. Fossil fuels emit toxic substances that are harmful to various ecosystems and they produce air contaminants that have adverse effects on human health. 

This is perhaps the most eminent benefit of using renewable energy sources such as wind. They do not contaminate water or generate any waste. Water-consumption for wind energy is among the lowest of all types of energy sources.

Following are the main benefits of wind energy:

  • It is a renewable energy source.
  • The wind is an inexhaustible source.
  • Creates opportunities for sustainable development.
  • It does not pollute the environment.
  • It creates employment opportunities.
  • There will be fewer energy imports.

As we can see, wind energy has many general benefits, but it also has some very positive effects on the environment specifically. Here are the major positive factors of wind turbines and wind energy:

Wind turbines are energy efficient

Wind energy is very efficient and cost-effective. Extracting and processing fossil fuels is very costly and expends a lot of energy in the process. Energy costs for fossil fuels arise even from transporting the fuels from various areas for use in a specific place. 

The energy that is generated from turbines goes through transmission lines from the point of origin to where it must be used or stored. Wind power does not have to be transported from far away areas since people can now use small-scale wind turbines to generate electricity close to where it will be used or stored. 

Therefore, the closer the power source is, the more efficient the whole energy system will be. The same cannot be said about fossil fuels since their power plants and factories are not commonly reproduced on a small scale and they are not found near areas of use or storage. 

They are beneficial for the climate

Fossil fuels are significantly harming the climate and causing climate change. The burning of oil, coal, or natural gas emits greenhouse gases which are known to directly influence global warming. 

After the manufacturing and construction of wind turbines, generating electricity does not involve any greenhouse gases. Lowering instances of greenhouse gas emission is crucial for maintaining climate conditions. Increasing renewable energy sources such as wind power can prove to have substantial benefits for the climate. 

There is a minimum usage of land

Wind turbines do not use too much land area which is what makes them an excellent renewable energy source. Wind turbines can be placed on flat or hilly land and those on flat land usually occupy more space. 

The main part of a wind turbine is the tower and the rotor. The majority of the turbine consists of the rotor whereas the tower does not use up much land. The only space needed is the area above ground for the rotor diameter. 

Although the entire wind power facility might take up a lot of land, the actual wind turbines themselves occupy very less space. The roads and transmission portions of the facility do not use a large amount of space either.

Additionally, the land underneath or near turbines can be used for other useful purposes such as agriculture, livestock grazing, highways, or even hiking trails. Therefore, turbines are a practical use of the land since the land can serve a dual purpose.

With offshore turbines, even less space is required than onshore turbines. These turbines must be strategically placed to minimize disruption in nearby activities such as fishing, aquaculture, and navigation. 

With the increasing application of offshore turbines, it will allow us to free more space on land for other uses. 

Another positive effect for the environment due to wind energy is that existing land can be used for placing turbines. We can build turbines on farms or ranches or use abandoned industrial sites. 

Wind turbines on farms and ranches are beneficial for the rural economy since these areas possess some of the best wind sites. Ranchers and farmers can also work uninterrupted by the turbines and they will also get paid for use of their land.

Concludingly, wind turbines can have a positive effect on the land areas provided they are built with appropriate planning and siting. This type of energy system significantly reduces concern about land use.

Less environmental pollution

Wind energy and turbines do not eject any sort of pollutants into the environment. Turbines produce electricity without any air pollution. Alternatively, fossil fuels emit harmful substances such as mercury, carbon dioxide, and oxides of Sulphur and nitrogen. These substances are very harmful to human health and ecosystems. 

Similarly, nuclear power is highly risky as there are dangers of radioactive waste or nuclear accidents. There are no such risks associated with wind power.

Wind energy does not produce any emissions in the air that cause acid rain, greenhouse gases, and smog which makes it a positive feature for the environment.

Conclusion

Wind turbines have evolved from windmills and are now a safe and effective way to generate electricity. These turbines come in varying heights, diameters, and types according to their application. There are onshore and offshore turbines and large scale and small-scale turbines as well. Wind turbines have highly positive effects on the environment as compared to other types of energy generation methods. With the correct placement and construction of these turbines, they can prove to be very beneficial for providing electricity without harming humans or the environment.

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