With the world actively engaging in methods to counter the debilitating effects of global warming, the issue of changing man’s preferred power source is put into scrutiny. Scientists, experts, and even activists argue that the reason for the continuous severity of global warming is due to man’s preferred use of coal or fossil fuels to power up many of man’s machineries. Although this particular debate is still being discussed by various parties, it is undeniable that there is an ongoing shortage on power and power generators for both developed and developing countries. In the United States, proposals have already been raised to use alternative energy sources to allow the US to become energy independent in order to decrease its usage of fossil fuels. Wind energy has been raised as one of the possible alternative sources, alongside solar, nuclear and hydro power. Regardless of the disadvantages of switching to wind power, wind energy has the capacity to enable US energy independence due to the available wind energy throughout the country, and the continuous research and implementation of wind energy use by the federal government.
Similar to solar energy, wind energy is one of the oldest forms of energy used by man since the ancient times. As technology and science developed an effective way to understand the capacity of the wind to produce energy, wind energy became the fastest-growing energy source in the world after the use of fossil fuel and solar power. There are at least four major advantages when it comes to the use of wind energy systems. The first advantage the wind presents is its nature. Wind energy systems such as turbines or windmills are powered by natural flowing wind, arguably the cleanest source of energy available after solar power. This alternative energy does not produce pollutants or carbon emissions unlike fossil fuels. The second benefit involves the availability of wind power. Similar to solar power, wind energy is limitless and available in every nation. It is not limited or restricted to one areas just like oil and coal. The next benefit of wind energy is the fact that it is one of the cheapest renewable energy sources available given the available technologies that enable wind energy. Finally, the ease of installation makes wind energy very efficient. Wind turbines or mills can be created on farms or ranches, especially for rural areas which are far from main transmission lines. Not only would these rural facilities be beneficial for farmers, it could be a source for income through the rent being paid for by the wind power plant owners.
However, wind power also has its flaws despite the various advantages it can provide to users. First and foremost, since wind power is still a fledgling energy source, it would have difficulties keeping up with traditional power generation sources in terms of its costs. Not all wind farms can generate enough energy to power an entire community, and replacing current energy supplies can be difficult and a huge investment for many developing nations. Aside from the cost, wind energy is also intermittent and not all areas can receive the same wind velocity to cater to the demand. There is an option to utilize batteries to store energies, however, there would be limits in utilizing this remedy as it may cost more for the remote facilities to power up the turbines; which may be hard to sustain for developing countries. Aside from this, the creation of wind plants may become barriers for land cultivation and other alternative uses for the land available. Finally, despite wind power’s environment friendly nature, the wind power plants may create noise pollution through the turbines that may cause problems for the community.
With the arguments presented showing the pros and cons of using wind power, American experts, including the government, see this alternative energy as a potential market to develop given the studies that see its capabilities. Like their fellow nations, the US had long been exposed to the use of wind energy since the establishment of the country. The concept of wind power had been introduced to the ‘New World’ in the 18th century, used mainly for water collection and agricultural use in farms and ranches. Wind-driven turbines were much larger in the period and stayed in use even after the Second World War to generate electricity. The Americans saw the possible benefits of utilizing this alternative energy, but had also seen the possible disadvantage of using wind energy. The country and its users would have to contend to the initial wind costs that may range from $900 to $2,500 per kilowatt. Creating plants throughout the country would also be very difficult to maintain. Wind power also is intermittent and may not produce the required amount of energy needed for rural areas. State ordinances may also affect the regulation policies in using wind plants. There is also a concern on environmental effects on fauna and immense span of land is also required to build these plants, restricting agriculture and shelter.
Regardless of these sentiments on the disadvantages of applying wind energy to the country, several researches by various agencies and experts show that wind power can secure US’ energy independence and switch from using traditional power sources. Aside from the raised advantages of wind power, the research of agencies such as the US Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the US Geological Survey reflect that wind energy’s contribution has already made a mark to overall US electricity production and continues to increase each year. Wind energy is currently contributing 1.3% to the total supply of US electricity since 2008 and has increased to 1.8% in 2009. While the amount is very few as compared to the 45% contribution of coal and 23% of natural gas to US electricity production, it is visible that it is gradually increasing as the year progress. The study also showed that the amount of electricity generated through wind power in the country also increases as it now amounts to 2.5 gigawatts (GW) since 2000 and has increased to 35 GW in 2009 (see figure 1).
Figure 1 Graph showing the growth of US wind power industry and its contribution to new electricity generating capacity
In addition to the continuous increase in wind power contribution to US electricity production, it is also discovered that the country has adequate annual wind speed that is capable of powering the country’s current and future wind plants. In 2009, the government has seen that land-based wind energy around the country has the capacity of creating 10,500 GW capacity at 80 meters and 12,000 GW capacity at 100 m heights. In terms of technical offshore wind energy, the US can receive an energy supply of 4,150 GW from 50 nautical miles of the country’s overall offshore area (see figure 2).
Figure 1 Map showing the US’s Land-based and Offshore Annual Average Wind Speed
In terms of offshore wind energy, the US government and supporting organizations and agencies state that the country’s coastlines and the Great Lakes can help the country collect US offshore winds to boost energy production through wind energy. Most of the country’s wind energy plants are concentrated on land and not found off-shore due to the fact there are no off-shore wind plant projects established. Other countries have already applied off-shore wind plants such as Europe, China, and Canada. The US’ offshore winds blow harder than land-based winds, therefore increasing supply for energy generation. If the country utilizes this untapped offshore wind resource – from shallow water, transitional depth waters to deep water reserves, it could produce four times the total power currently supplied through the US electric grid. Currently, projects for US offshore wind power is currently increase despite the increasing installation capital costs reported for the establishment of offshore wind plants. The NREL has also stated that once the offshore wind energies of the country is utilized, it can provide a wind penetration of 54 GW to 89 GW output by 2030. In addition to this observation, the NREL stated that if the country enables wind energy to supply 20% of the country’s electricity demand by 2030, the offshore wind resources would be a huge advantage to ensure further energy independence through alternative energy use.
The federal government is also making wind energy a potential energy source and continues to research and develop wind power-related issues for further use, adding to wind energy’s capacity to replace a majority or the overall energy production needed to run the country each year. The federal government has established several departments and agencies to tackle wind energy and other related issues to improve its use. In the 1980s, the US Department of Energy and NASA had first attempted the creation of a commercial wind turbine for the public to use, but, while the project was unsuccessful, it paved the way for the reduction of costs for wind power users. The National Wind Technology Center and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory are currently the two agencies that handle testing, development and further research in improving wind energy for the benefit of the country. The NWTC tests ideas and equipment from the wind turbine manufacturers in order to access possible uses for these equipment and ideas to the growing wind industry. Unlike private companies or institutions also studying wind technology and its capabilities, the NWTC is open to testing all types of problems that may seem complex for private institutions to tackle. The NREL opens its library to enable the public to enter their library and archives and study the current studies on wind development. The government have also created the Wind Program to study the possibility of reducing the cost of wind energy through continuous studies on wind plant performance and reliability. Studies also include as to how the wind technologies could incorporate the traditional electrical grid, wind forecasting, and improve public acceptance to these new technologies. Currently, the program has a budget of almost $93.5 million to fund its programs.
The federal government also acts as a channel for further development as they are now connecting with international organizations and agencies that tackles wind energy research and development. International collaborations have allowed the United States to work with the Institute of Electrotechnical Commission, the International Measuring Network of Wind Energy Institutes and the IEA Wind Implementing Agreement to create a research framework for further wind energy development. The IEA Wind Task 26 had even released a report that detailed US experiences in expounding both land and offshore wind technologies. The US is also connected with the IEA Wind Task 30 (Offshore Code Comparison Continuation), which improves the design of offshore wind turbines for all 12 signatories. In 2012, the US is also working with the IEA in developing the Ground-based, Vertically-Profiling Remote Sensing for Wind Resource Assessment which would provide signatories to share their techniques and frameworks in assessing their wind energy projects for both land and offshore sites.
Currently, the US federal government does not have an official target for the further improvement of wind energy. However, the current administration aims to achieve 80% US electricity coming from renewable energies by 2035. President Barack Obama had challenged the Americans to use renewable energy sources by 2020, doubling it as much as they could. In 2012, the US wind capacity has been reported to reach 60 GW and wind fleet generation has already reached a 140 GWh. As a result of these improvements, the country had reduced its carbon emissions by 79.9 million tons. It is expected that the DOE would renew its goals to push for clean energy development, opening a $150 million tax credit for renewable energy industries. Policies such as the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit also aids in the creation of these tax benefits for the country. Offshore projects are also expected to increase, increasing further development and use of wind energy.
As the world continuously faces an energy crisis due to the impacts of contemporary energy generation and global warming, it is crucial for nations to find alternative energy sources especially as traditional energy providers are now depleting. In the case of the United States, wind power has its ups and downs. With regards to the disadvantages of wind power, it would be difficult to replace traditional power sources in the country in favor of wind power due to the expensive maintenance cost, construction and energy prices. Political and environmental concerns would also need to be addressed. On the other hand, the country has immense wind energy supply both in land and off shore which can generate at least four times the energy currently produced through conventional energy grids. The government is also working its best to improve wind power technologies and foster development, which adds to the beauty of using wind power. While development continues to improve wind energy, its potential to power a country such as the United States completely is indeed possible and trigger new opportunities for both the public and the environment for continuous sustainability and development.
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