Renewable energy is increasingly seen as one possible antidote to the energy crisis. Whereas our coal oil and gas supplies are ever dwindling renewable sources such as wind are continuously available.
The UK is embracing the potential of wind energy and wind farms. The world’s largest offshore wind farm has been approved for the south-east coast, which will bring 341 wind turbines to the Thames Estuary. The scheme would generate one per cent of the UK’s electricity needs, or 1,000 megawatts of power. The wind farm will cut greenhouse gas emissions by nearly two million tonnes a year.
How do Wind Farms Work? A wind turbine is installed into the sea bed if offshore, or in a location with an optimum amount of wind if onshore. The turbine has sensors which detect the direction of the wind and set the head to collect the maximum amount of energy. The turbine is connected to a generator which converts the energy into electricity and sends it to a grid.
How Much Energy does Wind Generate?
At present there are over 1,700 wind turbines operating in the UK. If they were to all be working to full capacity, they would produce just over one per cent of our total electricity generation – that’s enough to supply over 1,000,000 homes. However the UK has been estimated to have over a third of Europe’s total offshore wind resource, three times the amount of our total electricity needs.
In contrast, Denmark produces about 25-30% of its total electricity with wind energy, including many offshore wind farms. Denmark plans to increase wind energy’s contribution to serve half its total energy needs.
Wind Farms – the Debate
There have been many arguments around off and onshore wind farms, particularly around whether the UK should follow European nations such as Denmark in extending its wind energy generation.
A recent survey conducted by the British Wind Energy Association indicated that 80% were in favour of wind energy, but there are still some debates around the following issues:
Some people are concerned that wind farms are ugly and ruin the beauty of the natural landscape. Others hark back to the look of old-fashioned windmills and argue that the streamlined, futuristic looking wind turbines would be better with a more traditional design. These are less efficient and not optimised to create as much energy, however. Others like the modern look of the turbines.
There is a concern that wind farms will be noisy and ruin otherwise peaceful areas. The development of wind farm technology means that in reality the sounds of wind farms are almost undetectable. The main audible noise is the movement of the blades in the wind. There are strict guidelines for wind farms to minimise noise pollution in order to protect local conurbations.
Another argument is that while wind energy is an environmentally friendly renewable option, the UK realistically needs to look at other more value for money energy solutions such as the expansion of nuclear. Yet the average wind farm in the UK pays back the energy used in its manufacture within six to eight months, only slightly longer than a nuclear power station but with a much greener output.
Some think that wind farms should be restricted to offshore locations only, away from towns, the countryside and people. However it is argued that due to the complexities involved in setting up offshore farms that a mixture of on and offshore is needed to take advantage of wind energy as much as possible.