Myths about wind power

Despite the fact that governments and businesses in about 80 countries are embracing wind power, and more and more wind power is bringing new, clean and affordable energy every day, some people have concerns about it.

We have listed some of the most common myths about wind power and the factual information that disputes it.

 


Wind power myths

Wind power is highly subsidized

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. Despite the growth in low carbon sources of energy, fossil fuels remain dominant in the global energy mix, supported by subsidies that amounted to $523 billion in 2011, up almost 30% on 2010 and six times more than subsidies to renewables.

Wind energy has become a mainstream technology and is already cheaper in Australia and Brazil than conventional energy sources. Wind power is already directly competitive with conventional energy sources in many markets around the world, such as Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and parts of China and the US.

Wind power needs extra back-up from fossil fuel power stations

All power sources need back-up and no energy technology can be relied upon 100%. The electricity grid copes with big fluctuations in energy demand on a daily basis. Although wind speed varies, this can be forecast fairly accurately. In Denmark, approximately 30 % of electricity demand is already supplied by the wind, and is managed successfully by the Transmission System Operator. 

Most people don’t like wind farms

Opinion polls and surveys across the markets worldwide show overwhelming public support for wind power providing an important signal to decision-makers: According to a Eurobarometer survey 89% of EU citizens are in favour of wind energy, compared to 43% for coal and 36% for nuclear. In 2012 a survey conducted in the US showed that 71% of Americans want to see more wind power development and in Canada a research poll found that 78% of Ontarians say that wind is one of the safest forms of electricity generation. In a recent survey in the UK, two-thirds of the Britons voted in favour of wind energy.

Awareness campaigns such as the Global Wind Day help inform Europeans and people around the world about the benefits of wind energy.

Wind turbines have a negative affect on people’s health

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 17 reviews of the research literature on wind farms and health can be viewed here.

Wind power is too expensive

The cost of electricity from wind has fallen past few years as technology has advanced. 

Wind energy has become a mainstream technology: it is already cheaper in Australia and Brazil than conventional energy sources and directly competes with them in an expanding number of markets including Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa and parts of China and the US.

Wind power is turning into the power technology of choice as utilities, energy planners and governments seek to diversify their energy mix, reduce CO2 emissions and air pollution, protect their economies from volatile fossil fuel prices and benefit from increased investment and job creation. With the right policy support wind could reach 1,000 GW by 2020 avoiding over 9 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

Wind turbines are less efficient than other energy sources.

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. 

It takes more carbon to build a wind turbine than it saves in its lifetime

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.

What about birds? Wind turbines kill animals, birds and marine life

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.

Wind farms are ugly and spoil the landscape

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.

Opinion polls and surveys across the markets show overwhelming public support for wind power providing an important signal to decision-makers: According to a Eurobarometer survey 89% of EU citizens are in favour of wind energy, compared to 43% for coal and 36% for nuclear. In 2012 a survey conducted in the US showed that 71% of Americans want to see more wind power development and in Canada a research poll found that 78% of Ontarians say that wind is one of the safest forms of electricity generation. In a recent survey in the UK, two-thirds of the Britons voted in favour of wind energy. 

Awareness campaigns such as the Global Wind Day help inform people around the world about the benefits of wind energy.

Wind turbines are noisy

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 will make my electricity bill go up

More wind power in the national electricity system does not mean higher electricity bills at home. 

Wind power is already directly competitive with conventional sources in many markets around the world, such as Canada, Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand, South Africa, and parts of China and the US.

For example, the current rate for wind power in Ontario in Canada is 11.5 cents per kWh, while nuclear’s all-in cost was between 25-28 cents/kWh.  Wind energy is cost-competitive with all other new sources of electricity generation. 

Another example comes from Montana, US, where wind facilities are able to produce energy at  $47/MWh whereas cost for coal produced energy is $68 /MWh (EUR 6.8 cents/kWh).

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. 

Wind power is not competitive with other energy sources

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.

A lot of people will lose their jobs if we change the way we get energy

Wind power creates jobs! In 2012, approximately 670,000 people were employed directly or indirectly in the global wind power industry. According to Global Wind Energy Outlook 2012 moderate scenario, wind energy could generate over 2.6 million jobs globally by 2030.  

In Brazil alone, 15,000 new jobs were created by the wind industry in 2012.

Jobs range from manufacturing to services and development. There is currently a shortage of skilled workers and engineers in the wind business.