Wind energy has been harnessed since its inception in the late 1800s by Professor James Blyth, but it wasn’t until after World War II that wind energy became a popularized means of clean energy. Since then, wind energy has been used to generate electricity around the globe, making renewable energy available in homes, business, public buildings, hospitals and more.
Since its humble inception, wind energy both onshore and offshore has increased by a factor of almost 75 in the past two decades, climbing from 7.5 gigawatts in 1997 to 564 GW in 2018 according to the IRENA. As of 2020, U.S. electricity generation from wind energy reached about 338 billion kWh, consisting of almost 9% of all electricity generation.
However, critics of wind energy have pointed out several issues with wind power as a truly sustainable means of renewable energy. This article will explain the major advantages and disadvantages of wind power, and its role in the future of sustainable investment.
Advantages of Wind Power
There are several advantages to wind power as a source of clean, renewable energy. First, it relies on wind, a resource that does not run out or require any energy input to take advantage of. As technology improves to overcome the challenges of weather unpredictability, this availability around the world will make it one of the most universally accessible renewable sources of energy.
Second, wind power can help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. With the UN 2030 goals centered on investing in clean energy, both to prevent pollution and further exasperation of climate change, wind energy represents a promising technology for pursuing both those needs.
On a more technical level, wind energy has also been seen as potentially helpful for farmers both domestically and abroad. Wind turbines are often planted in or near cropland, and researchers have studied whether turbines could have a positive effect on crop growth and rural development overall. Some studies have shown that wind turbines’ “mixing” of the air above crop fields help crops receive more CO2 during the day, as the direction of the turbines’ rotation pushes CO2 enriched air back down towards the plants.
Further, wind turbine energy can create a much-needed source of revenue, jobs and an increased local tax base in rural communities. Wind energy projects create new jobs in rural communities (often afflicted by poor financial conditions), and can even significantly decrease the overall cost of energy in particular regions.
For example, researchers at the University of Texas used their Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE) measure to calculate the per-megawatt-hour cost of building an electricity-generating plant across technologies. They found the most competitive counties in wind are concentrated in the Plains states, the Intermountain West, and throughout the Appalachian Mountains. Watauga County, North Carolina, wind electricity production costs only $54 per mWh (coal energy on the other hand costs between $68-148 per megawatt hour). While the research is still in its infancy, wind power has been shown to potentially cut down costs of energy generation and contribute to overall community wellness.
Finally, those who invest in wind power can take advantage of the wind power tax credit, which covers 22% of the cost to purchase and install the turbine to your main home plus one other.
Disadvantages of Wind Power
The biggest difficulty proponents of wind power face is the volatile nature of the weather. As is well known, weather around the globe varies by season and by year, which creates difficulties for those relying on that energy.
Wind power has been considered to be an intermittent energy source whose output is driven from environmental conditions which are largely outside the control of those attempting to harness such power. Should communities receive the majority of their energy from such a source, they could not reasonably expect that energy to be consistent throughout the year, or even throughout a season. While as a supplementary source this may be viable, it may be difficult in its current state of technological development to sufficiently depend on.
Economically, wind power is also at a disadvantage. Home or farm scale turbines are generally under 100 kilowatts and cost about $3000-$8000 per kilowatt of capacity. A large house would need a 10-kilowatt turbine and installation costs would likely be between $50,000 and $80,000.
Commercial turbines are on average around 2 megawatts and cost between $2.6-4 million, depending on how many turbines are ordered, when the agreement takes place and the location of the project. However, it should be noted that wind turbines, like any other equipment, is an investment on part of the owner. Though maintenance costs can be between $42-48,000 per year, at its max capacity a 4-megawatt turbine produces $455,520 in 2019, and can recoup some of its own expenses.
As new technology continues to develop in the realm of wind energy, climate-minded investors should look into adding wind energy investment to their portfolios.