The American Wind Energy Association estimates that the total wind energy capacity installed by 2016 was 82,183 MW and, on average, powered 24 million American households each year. The role of wind power in the American economy stems from the fact that it contributed to 41% of the energy resources added in 2015. Over the last ten years, a massive $143 billion has been spent in wind turbines in the U.S., generating more than 100,000 new jobs as a result of the growth of the wind energy sector. However, despite the massive investment in the industry, wind energy contributed only 4.7% to the total electricity generated in 2015 making some individuals question whether wind energy has a role to play in the global electrical production and the future of this industry is still unclear. This paper seeks to address this issue by proving the pros and cons of wind energy, the part it plays in the U.S and global electricity production, and its future trends.
Background on the U.S wind energy industry
The U.S wind energy has a long history which dates back to 5,000 B.C where the wind was used to propel boats in Egypt and in 500BC where it was utilized by the Persians to pump water and in windmills to grind grains. The first wind engine company in the U.S was established in 1850, and by the year 1890, the first electricity generating windmill was developed though it did not gain mass prominence. In the first half of the 20th century, various innovations were developed, and in 1941, the first large turbine to feed power to the electric utility system was operational (Jones & Bouamane 14). However, wind energy was still not a popular choice, and the discovery of nuclear energy in the 1950’s and cheap fossil fuels such as coal and oil made many governments ditch funding wind-related projects.
However, it was not until the 1970’s that there was a renewal of interest in wind as a source of energy. The oil and gas price shock during this time momentarily ended decades of cheap energy, and the U.S government started considering other alternative sources of energy such as the wind. There was a greater allocation of funding of the development of wind turbines, and the signing of the Utility Regulatory Policy Act of 1978 was a significant step in increasing the adoption of wind energy by companies. California was the first state to install the large wind farms, and favorable wind power policies such as tax credits have increased its use in the U.S.
Another major reason for the popularity of wind energy relates to environmental conservation. Jones & Bouamane point out that many individuals raised concerns over the rising pollution caused by the use of oil (19). Lakes were undergoing eutrophication as a result of the phosphate chemicals in detergents, and other nations such as Germany and Denmark joined in the environmental debate. Concerns over the safety of nuclear energy arose, and it is during this time that the wind gained prominence as an environmentally friendly energy choice. Companies have the entrepreneurial opportunity in this industry, and currently, there are numerous wind turbine manufacturers.
Pros of Wind Energy
The primary benefit of wind energy is that it is environmentally friendly. Jaber (252) points out that it is a clean form of energy with “zero emission of harmful substances.” It does not contribute to air pollution compared to coal and gasses and therefore, reduces the occurrence of health problems such as asthma or cancer. Also, it does not contribute to global warming because wind turbines do not emit any greenhouse gasses, and experts propose that its use will cut greenhouse emissions (Cheong at al. 225) by 14% resulting in massive savings of $400 billion in damage by the year 2050. Also, it does not require the use of any water, and it contributes to water conservation when compared to the other electricity sources such as coal and nuclear.
The Wind is an inexhaustible form of energy which is free and therefore, can provide the U.S with a limitless supply of electricity for an extended period. Its abundance makes it a cost-effective form of energy, and with government subsidies, it has become one of the cheapest sources of energy in the U.S. The wind turbines incur low operating costs because they do not consume any fuel and as a result, the consumer has the assurance of stable electricity prices.
Cons of wind energy
A significant disadvantage of is the large initial investment required to set up the wind turbines. Other sources of energy such as coal require less investment, and this is one of the main reasons why the wind energy industry has still not developed fully. Another disadvantage is that most of the good locations for turbines are in the rural areas and not in the cities where there is demand for electricity (Jaber 252). Extra costs in building transmission lines are incurred further raising the investment required.
Opponents of wind energy have pointed out its ecological impact. For instance, the large wind turbines harm the flight the birds and with the reporting numerous casualty cases of injured birds. Also, the setting up of the turbines requires clearing of the vegetation resulting in the destruction of a habitat for some species. The wind turbines have faced the accusation of causing noise pollutions the large parts are moving, and this distracts the human life nearby.
How wind energy fits into the US and global electricity production
The Global Wind Energy Outlook points out that in the year 2015, a total of 63 GW of wind power were installed globally making the global wind energy to reach 433 GW. The debate for renewable sources of energy is putting the wind on the forefront as a cheap alternative (Khorsand et al. 67). Also, the raging debate over climate change encourages the adoption of wind energy which uses no water leading to conservation of water usage and no pollution since it is a clean form of energy. Nations are also striving to come up with ways to create more job opportunities and statistics show that employment in this industry rose by 21% in 2015 (Global Wind Energy Outlook 8). Therefore, the wind energy industry clearly fits in the U.S federal government’s agenda to address climate change and create more job opportunities.
Development of technology has seen the prices of wind turbines fall since 2011 and the consumers can enjoy power costs of as little as $0.04 per KWh. Therefore, the wind promises to be a sustainable and cheap source of energy in the future and can replace nuclear energy and eliminate usage of coal. As nation seek to reduce the adverse effects of the current electricity generation methods, the wind is an alternative source to reduce the effects of global warming. The U.S recently committed itself to reduce the emission levels by 28 percent below the 2005 levels and attain this target by the year 2015. Achieving such a goal requires the federal government to embark on promoting the use of renewable sources of energy with zero emission rate, such as wind.
Future of the wind energy industry
The industry is projected to provide over 5800 GW of electricity by the year 2050, satisfying over 36 percent of the global demand for electricity at the time. The U.S will continue in its investment and the European Union and countries such as China, India, and the Latin America region will increase their investment. Greater development is to be seen in the developing regions such as Africa as wind energy firms enter these emerging markets. Wind turbine technology is expected to improve improving the efficiency and capacity of electricity generation enabling the consumer to access cheaper power. Offshore wind generation is also going to gain in popularity as countries establish turbines in the seas to take advantage of the consistent and strong winds. Offshoring wind energy promises increased amounts of electricity and countries such as the China, Japan, and China are investing in such projects.
In conclusion, the U.S wind energy industry has evolved over thousands of years. The future seems bright for the industry as countries adopt renewable sources of energy to reduce the adverse effects of climatic change brought about by emission from fossil fuels. The industry promises a cheap and sustainable source of energy for the indefinite future. However, governments have a role to play by providing companies with subsidies to set up the capital-intensive wind turbines. Going forward, more discussions on the role of wind energy are expected, and the U.S government must take the initiative to develop the wind at a larger scale.
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GLOBAL WIND ENERGY OUTLOOK. Global Wind Energy Council, Brussels, 2016, pp. 6-40
Jaber, Suaad. “Environmental Impacts Of Wind Energy”. Journal Of Clean Energy Technologies, vol 1, no. 3, 2014, pp. 251-254. Ejournal Publishing, doi:10.7763/jocet.2013.v1.57
Jones, Geoffrey, and Loubna Bouamane. “Historical Trajectories And Corporate Competences In Wind Energy”. SSRN Electronic Journal, 2011, Elsevier BV, doi:10.2139/ssrn.1831471
Khorsand, Iman et al. “Wind Energy In The City: An Interurban Comparison Of Social Acceptance Of Wind Energy Projects”. Energy Research & Social Science, vol 8, 2015, pp. 66-77. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/j.erss.2015.04.008