International Community Should Support Wind Power

Dani Hupper

The merits of today’s energy sources are all relative. As there is no completely pollutant-free way to harness energy, we are forced to pick the lesser of many evils. And with a few practical technological advancements, wind power could put us on the track to a future in renewable energy.

It’s difficult to determine wind power’s global electric potential (i.e. the maximum amount of wind power we could harness in the current political and economic climate). Will we take advantage of stronger and steadier offshore winds? Will areas with high wind capacity permit wind farms on their own property? Will we find a way to easily convert wind energy to put on all electrical grids? Due to these varying factors, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2011 report provided a range of global electrical potentials using wind power. The studies range from 70 EJ/year to 450 EJ/year. While there is a large difference in predictions, even the low estimate of global wind-provided electricity outputs a significant amount of power; 70 EJ/year is roughly equivalent to all the electricity we produced across the globe in 2008, and the 450 EJ/year figure is roughly six times that.

And wind power is just beginning to really take off. From 1999 to 2009, globally installed wind power increased 12-fold. In just 2009, 20 percent of the electricity from newly installed global electrical systems came from wind power. Particular countries that have jumped on the wind power bandwagon include China, the United States, Germany, India and Denmark. Surprisingly, China is the leading wind power producer. China has a 75,000 megawatt wind capacity, which is more than a quarter of the world total.

Like all energy sources, wind power has its problems. There are three I find most difficult: integration, transmission and reliability. Firstly, there is concern that wind power at high turbulence will not be able to integrate into the less-modern electrical systems (however, it’s been successfully integrated into the systems of Denmark, Portugal, Spain and Ireland). Secondly, areas with the greatest wind capacity are often distant from cities. There is concern that it will be too complex and unattractive to hang power cables between the wind farm and the populated area. Lastly, we have not found a way to store wind power in the absence of wind, and thus a backup or storage system is needed. These are significant issues. But pro-wind-power countries like China and Denmark show that these issues can be overcame with effort. The IPCC believes technology will advance appropriately in the near future.

Of course you might not be so supportive of wind turbines if they were in your backyard. Home owners find them to be an eye-sore and an annoyance because of their perpetual sound. Producing energy on your own property is not always pretty (though I, myself, find wind turbines quite peaceful). But we should remind ourselves of what non-local energy looks like: hydraulic fracturing near aquifers in Pennsylvania, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and mining for coal in Kentucky.

Once constructed, wind turbines emit no pollutants. They cause little harm on the surrounding ecosystem. The cost is competitive with prices in the current market. It could potentially power our growing energy demand, particularly if the appropriate technological and political advancements are made.

Wind power is a practical energy source. The international community should invest more time modifying its kinks rather than the fossil fuel alternative.