Myths about wind power
Despite the fact that governments and businesses in more than 80 countries are embracing wind power, and more and more wind power is providing bringing new, clean and affordable energy every day, some people have concerns about wind power.
We have listed some of the myths about wind power and the factual information that disputes it.
All energy is subsidized. No energy technology has been developed and competitive without state support. Traditional fossil fuels have been subsidized for up to 100 years. However, today, in an increasing number of markets wind power is directly competitive with new build conventional power sources, even though they remain heavily subsidized.
Despite some claims to the contrary, an increasing quantity of independent research indicates that wind turbines are not harmful to human health. The wind industry is committed to engagement with experts in science, medicine and occupational and environmental health to monitor on-going credible research in the area of wind turbines and human health.
Wind energy is one of the cleanest, most environmentally-friendly energy sources. It emits no greenhouse gases or air pollutants. It emits no particles of any kind, and certainly no particles which are carcinogenic and severely affect human health, as do fossil fuels.
In July 2012, Health Canada published the results of a national study on wind turbines, sound and human health; and concluded that wind energy is one of the safest sources of electricity. See a summary of the main conclusions reached in 17 reviews of the research literature on wind farms and health:
The cost of electricity from wind has fallen past few years as technology has advanced. Wind energy is competitive with new coal and new nuclear capacity, even before any environmental costs of fossil fuel and nuclear generation are considered. The average cost of generating electricity from onshore wind varies in different markets but is now competitive with new coal and cheaper than new nuclear. As gas prices increase and wind power costs fall – both of which are very likely – wind becomes even more competitive.
Wind turbines start operating at wind speeds of 4 to 5 metres per second and reach maximum power output at around 15 metres/second. At very high wind speeds, i.e. gale force winds, (25 metres/second) wind turbines shut down. A modern wind turbine produces electricity 70-85% of the time, but it generates different outputs depending on the wind speed.
Over the course of a year, it will typically generate 15-30% (or more) of the theoretical maximum output of the turbine. This is known as its capacity factor, and modern turbines are getting reasonably close to theoretical limit of power one can extract from a stream of moving air, hence they are very efficient. However, the capacity factor is less than conventional power generators, but there are no fuel costs – the wind is free. So it doesn’t make sense to compare the ‘efficiency’ of thermal power systems with those of wind or solar or other renewable energy technologies.
Wind turbines produce no greenhouse gas emissions during their operation. It takes a turbine just three to six months to produce the amount of energy that goes into its manufacturing, installation, operation, maintenance and decommissioning after its 20-25 year lifetime. During its lifetime a wind turbine delivers up to 80 times more energy than is used in its production, maintenance and scrapping. Wind energy has the lowest ‘lifecycle emissions’ of nearly all energy production technologies.
Big environmental and nature conservation groups like Birdlife, WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and Birdlife support wind energy. Birdlife recently stated that climate change was the single largest threat to birds and wind and renewables were a clear solution to climate change.
Wind farms are always subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment to ensure that their potential effect on the immediate surroundings, including fauna and flora, are carefully considered before construction is allowed to start. Deaths from birds flying into wind turbines represent only a tiny fraction of those caused by other human-related sources such as vehicles and buildings.
A 2012 study carried out in the UK (Pearce- Higgins et al.) concluded that a large majority of species can co-exist or thrive with wind farms once they are operating (Journal of Applied Ecology).
According to the Greening Blue Energy study, “Including both on and offshore facilities, estimated rates of mortality for different bird species range from 0.01 to 23 mortalities per turbine per year” (Drewitt & Langston, 2005). It has been estimated that wind turbines in the US cause the direct deaths of only 0.01-0.02% of all of the birds killed annually by collisions with man-made structures and activities.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and whether you think a wind turbine is attractive or not will always be your personal opinion. A 2011 Eurobarometer survey found that 89% of EU citizens are in favour of wind energy, compared to 43% for coal and just 36% for nuclear. 84% think wind energy will have a positive effect on our future way of life.
Awareness campaigns such as the Global Wind Day help inform people around the world about the benefits of wind energy.
The noise of wind turbines has been reduced significantly. Improved design has drastically reduced the noise of mechanical components so that the most audible sound is that of the wind interacting with the rotor blades. This is similar to a light swishing sound, and much quieter than other types of modern-day equipment. Even in generally quiet rural areas, the sound of the blowing wind is often louder than the turbines.
A 2010 Canadian report, ‘The Potential Health Impact of Wind Turbines’, confirmed that noise level emissions complied with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations for residential areas.
More wind power in the national electricity system does not mean higher electricity bills at home.
Find out for yourself using EWEA’s electricity cost calculator, which includes the risk of changing fuel and carbon prices.
The calculator shows that in 2010, onshore wind cost €64.9 per Megawatt hour (MWh): less than coal at €67.6. By 2020 the gap should be even wider – €80.3 for coal and €57.41 for wind.
Nuclear is considerably more expensive than wind energy. ‘In liberalised energy markets, building nuclear power plants is no longer a commercially feasible option: they are simply too expensive”, wrote The Economist in March 2012.
Because the fuel for wind power production does not have a cost, the cost can be predicted with great certainty, unlike the fluctuations in the price of oil, gas and coal. The increase in the oil price over the past few years from $20 to over $100 has added $45 billion to the EU’s annual gas import bill.
The more wind power produced, the less reliant it is on fossil fuels at unpredictable prices. And these savings are passed on to the end at home.
Yes, onshore wind power is competitive once all the costs that affect traditional energy sources – like fuel and CO2 costs, and the effects on environment and health – are factored in.
Taking CO2 costs alone – if a cost of €30 per tonne of CO2 emitted was applied to power produced, onshore wind energy would be the cheapest source of new power generation in Europe – and wind is already directly competitive with conventional sources in many places around the world, such as Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand, parts of China and the US.
Wind power creates jobs! In 2011, approximately 670,000 people were employed directly or indirectly in the global wind power industry. According to an Energy [R]evolution 2012 report, wind energy would employ 1.7 million people by 2030.
Jobs range from manufacturing to services and development. There is currently a shortage of skilled workers and engineers in the wind business.