So here’s what you need to know about wind: It’s the fastest growing renewable. Why? First, it’s simple. Wind turns the blades, which turn the generator, and that makes electricity. Then, it’s modular. You can put up a few wind turbines to help power a village. Or put up a lot, and you’ve got a wind farm.
And you can do it fast. A windfarm can be built in a year. And in the world of energy, that’s very fast.
Then, wind is available. Most countries have usable wind. And some of the biggest power consumers, like the US and China, have a lot of it. But wind’s most important benefit, is that it’s affordable. Windpower is about the same price as natural gas power. And that means people will build it.
And of course, once it’s built, there are zero emissions – carbon or anything else. That’s a pretty good deal.
But wind has a few downsides. Some people don’t want to look at all the turbines. And the closer they are, the less people want to look at them. So you could put them offshore. But this makes windpower several times as expensive.
Or you could put them far away, like in the Great Plains. But then you’ve got to build long-distance transmission. And it turns out, that’s much more of a challenge than building the windfarm itself.
Finally, the biggest challenge is that wind is intermittent – it only makes power when the wind is blowing. So it may not be there when we need it most, like on a hot summer day when everyone’s running their air conditioning.
That means we have to back up wind with another fast-starting power source, ready to jump in when the wind dies. That’s usually natural gas.
So wind is a new clean power source that is affordable – unless building transmission and back up generation make it unaffordable. Which goes to show, that every energy source is a trade-off of pros and cons – and that a successful energy transition will require the right balance of many energy sources.
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