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Wind Power and Solar Power as Energy Sources - the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Wind Power and Solar Power as Energy Sources

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Using natural resources for energy has been important to the survival of human beings from the beginning of time. History indicates that in early times, the burning of wood was used to heat and cook food and solar energy from the sun was used as a heat source to keep warm or to dry things such as animal skins used for clothing. As our society developed and industrialized over time, non renewable resources known as fossil fuels which include coal, crude oil and natural gas, were discovered as additional energy sources that could be used to power machinery, generate electric and supply the larger energy needs of a larger population. Because of increased demands for energy caused by a growing population of people and advances in technology that require greater use of these non-renewable resources, it has become a valid concern that these resources could be completely depleted in the foreseeable future. This possible reality has re-directed attention to the use of renewable natural resources including wind power and solar power, to provide more of our energy needs. Although these renewable energy sources have existed since the earth began and are currently being used on a low scale basis, they are not being used as primary sources of energy in the United States. To understand why, it is helpful to know what these two renewable resources are, how they can be used to produce energy and the good, the bad and the ugly about them.

The first, wind, is air in motion that is caused by the uneven heating of the earth's surface by the sun. According to the American Wind Energy Association (2009), "... wind energy is a converted form of solar energy." As a result of the uneven rates of heating of the different surfaces of the earth, portions of the atmosphere are caused to warm differently. When hot air rises from these surfaces, the atmospheric pressure of the earth's surface reduces, cooler air comes in to replace it and wind is formed. This air in motion is what makes wind a source of energy. The motion of the air produces kinetic energy that can be converted into mechanical force or electricity used to perform work. In order for this conversion to take place, the energy has to be collected through a system that can harness it for practical use.

The most common systems used to harness wind energy are windmills and turbines. Windmills consist of a wheel of blades or slats that are rotated by the wind. This rotation can be used to produce mechanical energy which can be used to pump water or turn heavy millstones that grind wheat and other grains. According to the American Wind Energy Association (2009), windmills are most often used in rural or remote areas for these purposes. Turbine systems consist of a rotor and blades that convert the wind's energy into rotational shaft energy; a tower to support the rotor and drive train; and electrical equipment (American Wind Energy Association, 2009). These turbine systems are used to generate and provide electric power to homes and businesses. In addition, wind power plants can be constructed by grouping turbines together which generate larger amounts of electric to one area. Through these systems, wind energy can be captured and used as an effective energy source. Now that we know what wind energy is and how it can be used, let's look at what is good about the use of wind energy as an energy source.

The U.S. Department of Energy (2008) reports the following reasons that wind is good as a source of energy:

The Good

1) Wind energy is a clean fuel source.

2) Wind energy is a domestic source of energy, produced in the United States and the nation's wind supply is abundant.

3) Wind energy is renewable and can't be used up.

4) Wind energy is one of the lowest-priced renewable energy technologies available today.

5) Wind power plants providing wind energy can be built on farms or ranches leased by the

owners to those using the wind energy. This provides additional income to the farmers and ranchers who charge others for the use of their land.

The following are reported by the U.S. Department of Energy (2008) to be bad reasons for using wind power as an energy source:

The Bad

1) Wind power must compete with conventional generation sources on a cost basis. The wind farm may or not be cost competitive depending on how energetic a wind site is. The technology requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fueled generators.

2) It is a challenge to use wind as a source of power because it is intermittent and may not always be available when electricity is needed. Wind energy cannot be stored without the use of batteries and not all winds can be harnessed to meet the timing of when electric is needed.

3) The location of good wind sites are often in remote locations that are far from cities where electricity is needed.

4) The development of wind resources compete with other uses for land that may be more highly valued than generating electric.

5) The rotating blades can harm birds that fly into them.

In addition, as reported by The Energy Information Administration (n.d.1), wind speed varies throughout the United States and from season to season. This makes producing energy from the wind on a widespread basis more of a challenge.

These are some of the good and the bad reasons about using wind energy, which leaves us with the ugly as follows:

The Ugly

The visual aspect of wind turbines is considered by some people to be ugly or

displeasing to the eye. As reported by Gipe (1993), "The public has a strong desire for visual 'tidiness', reflecting our biological imperative for creating order out of a chaotic universe." A public complaint about using wind as an energy source is that arrays of turbines degrade the quality of the landscape in which they are found (Pasqualetti, 2000). Wind turbines can be seen from long distances away and because the natural landscape is nearly motionless, their spinning rotors attract and hold an observer's attention (Gipe, 1993). Though some people welcome the sight of wind turbines that signify the advances in technology being made to use renewable sources

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