Wind energy has been playing and will continue to play an important part in the quest for green technology both here in the United States and world-wide. The quest for a source of energy that is free, widespread, and does not add to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions is fueling the constant development of better strategies to make wind energy more economically feasible and widely used. This paper will seek to examine the importance of wind energy, its sustainability, the leaders in the industry and the challenges that this sector must face if it is to become more viable.
WIND ENERGY: THE UP-AND-COMING GREEN TECHNOLOGY
The topic of wind energy was chosen for this paper because it is one of the up-and-coming green technologies both in our economy and in the economy world-wide. Eighty-three countries around the world now use wind energy for at least part of their domestic energy production, and the rate of growth is staggering: power produced from wind energy increased fourfold between 2000 and 2006, and it is estimated that, if the high rate of growth continues, that nearly one-third of the world’s energy will be derived from the wind by 2050 (National Geographic, 1). Even within the United States, the speed with which wind power is becoming a larger and larger part of the total energy production for our country is amazing: according to the American Wind Energy Association, wind power has added 35% of all new generating capacity to the US grid since 2007, which is more than coal- or nuclear-fueled energy combined (AWEA, 1). These numbers alone make it an important player in the energy market, and this paper will seek to examine the long-term environmental, economic, and social sustainability of wind energy, as well as examining the major players in this field and the future trends in this industry is regards to the overcoming of current challenges.
WIND ENERGY: ENVIRONMENTAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL SUSTAINABILITY
Wind Energy and the Environment. The environmental sustainability of wind energy is apparent even to people who know little about energy issues: it is a “clean” energy, in the sense that it does not give off greenhouse gasses in the way that, for instance, coal-fired power plants do (Wikipedia, 2). As far as is known, in fact, wind energy does not cause any water or air pollution in the course of its production (National Geographic, 2). Slowly turning windmill blades on the collection of turbines called “wind farms” can kill birds and bats, though not as many as do other structures like power lines and high-rise buildings (3), and conservationists have been rightly concerned about the impact that wind farms can have on wildlife. However, the industry has been trying to help reduce the environmental impact of wind farms. For offshore wind farms, for instance, leases – before they are granted – must be compliant with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and part of this compliance includes a review of “air quality, water quality, marine mammals, sea turtles, seafloor habitats, physical oceanography, coastal habitats, socioeconomics, cultural resources, fisheries and multiple use conflicts” (American Wind Energy Association, 4). It is, in other words, a very thorough, multidisciplinary process of assessment design to minimize environmental impact.
Wind Energy and the Economy. The economic sustainability for the United States and the world is also apparent when this industry is studied. The wind energy is the US has brought in tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars into the economy, and has provided local taxes and helped to strengthen the economic base in hard-hit rural areas by paying farmers for the use of their land for wind farms (Wikipedia, 1). Because wind energy is free and widely available, this can help keep the cost of energy low of consumers, and AWEA notes that wind energy industries can “lock in” energy prices for 20-30 years due to the free fuel of the wind; it further notes that wind energy is currently powering over ten million homes across the country and employing over 75,000 people in the United States alone (American Wind Energy Association, 3).
Wind Energy and Social Development. The social sustainability of wind energy, likewise, is an important aspect to consider when regarding the industry as a whole, and is especially important to consider in regards to the improvement of life in developing countries. While it is true that many countries in the developing world are rich in natural resources such as abundant wind, a lack of knowledge about the production of wind turbines for energy and about the importance of site placement, and programs like TERNA (Technical Expertise for ReNewable Energy Application) are helping to bridge that gap. TERNA has worked with national and local authorities to help choose sites and develop wind farms in countries like Morocco, Jordan, and Namibia (Abramowski and Posorski, 13). In addition, the development of small wind turbines for the use of individual homes and businesses in the developing world have also proven to be promising. Small wind turbines are not dependent upon already-established power grids in the same way that large turbines are, so they are cheaper for developing countries to install and because these turbines are able to run on less wind, there is more freedom in site selection. This could make small wind turbines a more attractive option for rural or remote areas of the developing world, and Practical Action, a UK-based humanitarian group, has recently placed small turbines in rural villages in both Sri Lank and Peru (Foster, 16).
LEADERS IN THE WIND ENERGY SECTOR.
One of the most important leaders in the wind energy industry include the American Wind Energy Association (American Wind Energy Association, 3), which is a trade association whose members come from all aspects of the wind energy industry: researchers, suppliers, manufacturers, utility companies, and policy makers associated with this field. They help to lobby for wind energy interest in Congress, provide community education, and have publications of interest to the industry throughout the year. (4). Another leader in the industry is EDF (Electricite de France) Renewable Energy, which is a company based in Europe but which works extensively throughout Mexico, the United States and Canada. Its business is to “develop the project, secure financing, manage the physical assets over the life of the project and provide operations and maintenance support to ensure long-term sustainability” (Electricite de France, 2) and it is in the fact the third largest provider of operations and maintenance (O&M) in North America today. The role that the US Department of Energy (DOE) also plays a large role in this sector: its Wind Program has the goal of increasing wind energy production to 20% of overall national production by the year 2030, through reduction of costs and market barriers and through lowering the cost of the new technologies. It does this primarily through research and development projects for improving technology in this sector and works with national laboratories, institutions of higher education, and private industry to help achieve these goals (Department of Energy, 2).
MEETING THE CHALLENGES THAT FACE THE WIND ENERGY INDUSTRY
The wind energy industry is rising to meet many of the varied challenges it faces. In order, for instance, to increase power-generating capacity and take advantage of more consistent maritime winds, there is a large effort underway to develop American off-shore wind farms. The National Off-Shore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry” plan was recently unveiled by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Victor Chu, a plan which has the ambitious goal of creating 10 gigawatts’ worth of energy from offshore wind farms by 2020 and 54 gigawatts’ worth by 2030. (American Wind Energy Association, 6). It is also trying to mitigate its impact on wildlife through programs like the “Eagle Conservation Plan Guidance”, recently published by the U.S. Game and Fish Commission to help the industry minimize its impact on the eagle population (McMahon, 34). There are other similar programs underway to help with wildlife mitigation for other species as well.
In conclusion, wind energy is indubitably one of the growing areas of “green technology”. A good knowledge of the wind energy industry’s impact on social, environmental and social stability, the leaders in the industry, and the industry’s future is important in any serious discussion of alternative energy.
SWOT Analysis of the Wind Power Industry
- Clean energy that does not contribute to greenhouse gasses and climate change.
- Decreased dependence on fossil fuels, which are increasingly expensive and scarce.
- Increased national security due to increase in domestic energy production.
- Doubled use of land, both for wind energy and other uses like livestock grazing
- Free source of energy that can help to decrease energy costs.
- Plants can be expensive to build and maintain, though this is improving.
- Wind farms can be detrimental to wildlife, especially bat and bird species.
- Public perception of wind farm aesthetics can be poor and they are seen as ugly.
- There can be a lack of consistent energy production due to variability of winds.
- Current, wind energy plants do not produce as much energy as fossil-fuel based plants.
- Meet needs of increased world energy demands, especially in places like China and India.
- Decrease greenhouse emissions through use of clean energy.
- Increase quality of life in the developing world through sustainable, green development.
- Create wind farms that are wildlife-friendly and lessen industrial impact.
- Increase the efficiency of energy production from wind to better compete in production.
- Government funding can be tenuous and hard to count on due politics.
- Environmental backlash due to conservation issues is an ongoing problem.
- Backlash from the fossil fuel industry is possible, due to competition from wind energy.
- Competition is also possible from other alternative energy sources like solar power.
- It is challenging to educate a workforce to manufacture/maintain wind energy plants
Abramowski, J. and Posorski, R. Wind Energy for Developing Countries. (2000) DEWI Magazine, 17:3 13-15
American Wind Energy Association. (2013). Learn About Wind Power. Retrieved from: www.awea.org
EDF Website. (2013). Wind Energy. Retrieved from: www.edf-re.com/wind
Foster, Robert.. Small Wind Turbines May Change the Future of Energy in Developing Countries. (2011). Trade, Investment, and Sustainable Development. 11:3 15-19
McMahon, Jeff. 5 Steps to Keep Your Wind Farm from Killing Eagles. (2013) Forbes Magazine. 28: 5 34-35
National Geographic Online Magazine. (2013). Wind Power Retrieved from: http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global- warming/wind-power-profile
Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia. (2013). Wind Power Retrieved from: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/wind_power
US Department of Energy Website. (2013). Wind Program. Retrieved from: www.eere.energy.gov/wind/about.html