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Today, the worlds primary source of energy is generated by burning fossil fuels, however the detrimental effects of fossil fuel use, namely climate change, has necessitated an environmentally friendly and economically feasible alternative. Many believe that wind turbines (WT) can fulfil this role. These turbines are powered by wind, which pushes the turbine rotor blades (How Do Wind Turbines Work?, n.d.). This spinning motion powers an internal generator that induces a current, by the principle of electromagnetic induction (Electromagnetic Induction, 2014). Wind power (WP) appears to be a sustainable, cost-effective and clean source of energy when compared to current fossil fuel alternatives. However, potential aesthetic and noise pollution, various other environmental impacts and reliability concerns involved with WT use must be addressed. It should also be noted that the feasibility of WP varies based on location, and must also be compared with other options, such as nuclear and hydro power.
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How WTs generate electricity:
In 1831, Michael Faraday discovered that the voltage of a circuit was changed when moving a bar magnet through an electric conductor (Deffree, 2019). It was later discovered that this electro-motive force (emf) could be maximised by increasing the number of coils of the conductor (l), the strength of the magnet (B), and the degree and direction of motion between the magnet and the coil (v), (
) (Electromagnetic Induction, 2014):
Traditionally, there are three types of generators (Wind Turbine Generator, 2019) that are used in WP systems. This report will address the advantages, disadvantages and other concerns regarding asynchronous WTs.
In a modern WT, the rotor is wrapped in coils of the conductor, which is positioned between two stationary magnets, known as stators (Difference Between Stator & Rotor, n.d.). The spinning motion of the rotor in the magnetic field of the two stators creates an electromotive-force on the electrons contained in the conductor, inducing a current. (How electricity is generated, 2018). The induced alternating current is then converted to DC current so that it can be used in the power grid (Wind Turbine Generator, 2019).
Figure 1: Rotating rotor between two powerful stationary magnets (stator) (Wind Turbine Induction Generator (Phasor Type), 2019).
The shape of the blade creates an area of lower pressure on one side of the turbine blade when it is pushed by wind (How Do Wind Turbines Work?, n.d.). This pressure differential creates a lifting net force, which spins the rotor:
Figure 2: Pressure differential results in a lifting force, rotating the blade (Menon, 2016).
These blades are connected to the generator through a gearbox, which improves rotation efficiency (How Do Wind Turbines Work?, n.d.). This torque powers the generator and generates electricity.
Wind generated electricity is considered as a clean and renewable source of energy as it is naturally replenished, it does not release pollution into the atmosphere like fossil fuel derived power sources and there is no limitation in its supply for long term electricity generation (Environmental Impacts of Wind Power, 2013). Wind-powered farms also have a lower water-consumption footprint than other sources of energy such as nuclear and hydro power plants (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2018). However, when considering the feasibility and suitability of relying upon WP, the various environmental concerns surrounding wind-based power plants must be addressed. The most controversial environmental issue associated with WTs relate to avian and bat mortality (Wind Energy Development Environmental Concerns, n.d.). There are concerns that populations are disrupted by the presence of WTs, with many fatalities occurring when they fly into turbine blades (B. Thaxter, M. Buchanan, & Carr, 2017). However, recent studies indicate that the implementation of recent technological developments and an improvements in siting plans, will drastically reduce the effect of wind-farms upon avian and bat populations (Wind Energy Development Environmental Concerns, n.d.).
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It should also be noted that WTs occupy large areas of open land due to the length of blades used, with 5 to 10 rotor diameters required between each turbine (Gaughan, 2018). These turbines are most effective under regular and uninterrupted wind conditions, which necessitates relatively low amounts of tall neighbouring infrastructure (Gaughan, 2018). Whilst nearby areas could be used for agricultural or grazing purposes, one must consider other potential recreational, residential and commercial uses for such areas.
When considering the wide-spread implementation of WP, the economic advantages and disadvantages must be considered and compared to other alternatives. Previously, lower marginal costs due to pre-existing infrastructure have allowed coal-power to be competitive in the current energy market. However, in late 2018, The Bloomberg New Finance (BNEF) conducted research that concluded that due to the increasing international prices of black coal and decreased costs of wind-generated electricity, it is now cheaper to build new wind or solar-powered plants than to continue powering previous coal-powered stations (Brailsford, 2018). Further predictions showed that China, the EU, the US and Russia could save up to 389 billion US dollars by conforming to the Paris Climate Agreement and closing-down coal plants (Parkinson, 2018). It was found that WP was much cheaper when compared to other renewable sources, such as nuclear power plants, even when factoring in the inconsistency and intermittency of wind intensity.
However, there are some major issues in the development and adoption of wind energy that arise due to the reliability, transmission and storage of wind energy. As wind speeds cannot be controlled, the supply of wind-generated electricity may not meet the demand at a specific time, which can cause blackouts in areas that solely rely upon this technology. Furthermore, the optimum locations for wind farms are often distant from consumers (Baldwin, 2017). However, ongoing studies are researching other methods of storage and transportation, such as the use of hydrogen or methane as a storage medium, which can be transported through natural gas pipeline systems (Ragheb, 2017). Further investment into researching transportation is required before the large-scale implementation of windfarms. Additionally, other energy generation methods should be investigated and utilised to reduce the potential impact of wind intermittency.
The transition from fossil fuels and traditional coal mines to clean, renewable sources of energy will require a multitude of social considerations foremost of which is the issue of employment for workers in fossil fuel industries. The development of wind-powered farms can play a large role in creating such jobs during the transition from harmful fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. A tool known as JEDI was developed by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) can accurately model local job and economic benefits. JEDI estimates that 4134 jobs in Louisiana could be supported per gigawatt of wind energy during construction, with a further 127 operating occupations, which is expected to net an annual payroll of 7 million US dollars (Dvorak, 2016). In addition to the creation of jobs, the adoption of WP could result in lowered and more stable electricity costs for consumers in the future.
There are concerns surrounding the aesthetics and noise pollution that WTs cause. However, it should be noted that whilst earlier implementations of WTS resulted in noise pollution, recent technological advancements and innovations, such as offshore windfarms and horizontal-axis turbines, the effect of noise from newer models are insignificant (Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy, n.d.). Other problems concerning aesthetic pollution, and radio-wave disruption can also be resolved with appropriate siting decisions.
The use of WT to generate electricity has many economic, social and environmental benefits when compared with pre-existing alternatives, such as coal-based power plants. However, further research is required to address concerns regarding the storage and transportation of wind-generated power. Furthermore, the location of wind- arms must be carefully chosen to minimise the effect upon radio signals, and aesthetic and noise pollution. Additionally, an over-reliance on WP should be avoided by implementing other clean, sustainable methods of electricity generation such as hydro, or nuclear-based power to reduce the impact of potential power outages.
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