In the search for clean, renewable energy, wind power has become increasingly popular. Almost every power plant generates electricity by turning a turbine. Even a nuclear power plant ultimately just boils water into steam, which then turns a turbine. Wind power takes the same principle and applies it to wind by building giant turbines that are turned by wind. Wind power has many benefits, including a lack of pollution, but it also comes with its own set of disadvantages.
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Each individual wind turbine generates only a small amount of power, so wind turbines must be built in large groups called wind farms to rival the output of a traditional power plant. If two wind turbines are built too close to each other, they will interfere with each other by blocking the other's wind. Therefore, they must be built sufficiently far apart. As a result, wind power requires much more land usage to generate power comparable to the output of a traditional power plant.
Wind turbines require wind to generate electricity. Therefore, in situations where there is no wind, or not much, turbines cannot generate any power. Wind farms can be placed in very windy locations, but even still wind is unreliable and must be paired with another source of power to satisfy large-scale power demands. So while wind power contributes to a power grid, it cannot at present totally replace more consistent forms of power such as a coal power plant.
While technology has progressed that makes wind power cheaper, wind power still remains more expensive per kilowatt-hour than coal, natural gas or other power sources, making it economically uncompetitive with other types of power. This means that without government subsidies, people pay more for wind power than they do coal-generated power. Wind turbines also incur almost all their cost upfront in the construction of the turbine, making them more expensive initially to construct than other power plants like coal, which include the price of fuel over the life of the plant in their total costs. So an investor must pay much more initially to build a wind farm than a coal plant that produces a similar amount of energy.
Birds, unused to such massive moving structures in their flight path, have a tendency to hit wind turbines. This has also proven to be the case with bats. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that turbines kill up to 75,000 birds every year, a number that would likely rise as more turbines are built.
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- "Wall Street Journal"; Windmills Are Killing Our Birds; Robert Bryce; September 7, 2009
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- US Department of Energy: Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy
- Power Naturally: Wind Power Project Site: Identification and Land Requirements
- "New York Times"; Cost Works Against Alternative and Renewable Energy Sources In Time of Recession; Matthew L. Wald; March 28, 2009