What are some ways to reduce our excessive exploitation of natural resources by using renewable energy? What are the pros and cons of wind energy for electric power generation in particular?
- 1 Context within NORA
- 2 Understanding Patterns of Abundance and Scarcity
- 3 Approaches toward greater Abundance
- 4 Related Links and Stories
- 5 References
Context within NORA
Relationships to other Resources
Energy: Wind energy is a subcategory of the larger energy category. Wind is totally renewable source of energy in that it will never be depleted. It can provide clean energy while providing for the needs of the community. It does however also require an investment of energy to build wind turbines in the first place. The resource pages on energy further explains the benefits of renewable energy.
Air and Atmosphere: Wind is moving air, and wind patterns are determined by processes involving the entire atmosphere.
Land: Facilities for utilizing wind energy, such as wind turbines, require land to stand on. They are more or less compatible with other land uses – for example, they may be highly compatible with grazing or crop agriculture, but much less so with nearby residential developments. This affects how much land must be regarded as being occupied by the wind turbines.
Minerals: Wind turbines are made of steel and many other materials, which are made from mineral substances.
Living things: Older methods of utilizing wind energy, such as sailing ships and old-style wind mills, are mostly made of wood, canvas and other materials that are derived from plants.
Wind turbines can interfere with the local ecology; for example, if they are built on bird migration routes which can lead to significant bird kills.
Knowledge: Improved methods for utilizing wind energy are a major area of current research. It is also important to make good decisions about where to place wind-turbines, based on a knowledge of the local landscape, of wind patterns, of where people live and of their landscape values.
Relationships to Needs
Health and air to breathe: Cutting down on the use of fossil fuels can provide a healthier environment for all by reducing air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels for electricity.
Security can be found in knowing one can rely on a cheaper form of energy for daily needs.
Being at Home in one’s own environment and being able to provide energy for household needs with the use of wind turbines. Conversely, however, some people find that their sense of being at home is hurt by the presence of wind turbines.
Food refrigeration takes a lot of energy but this energy could be provided by wind which would reduce the environmental (and potentially monetary) cost.
Water pollutants may be able to decrease with less usage of fossil fuels polluting the environment leaving cleaner water for more people.
People can obtain meaningful livelihoods in the area of providing clean, renewable sources of energy.
Participation in decision-making: Communities must come together and decide how many and where they would like to construct wind turbines. Individuals must be informed of the benefits of using renewable source.
Relationships to Organizational forms
Since wind energy is a natural resource, its use can be classified as part of the natural resource management cluster; it also allows more careful use of other natural resources such as fossil fuels.
Small wind turbines can help people provide energy for their own households according to the self provisioning cluster. Wind energy may also be part of the community solidarity cluster, in two ways: 1) Communities must come together to decide on the use and placement of wind farms and when everyone can come to an agreement the process of integrating renewable energy goes a lot smoother, and 2) communities can collectively finance, own and operate wind farms. The individual sales cluster is relevant to the selling back of unused energy from small-scale producers to regional electric utilities. Most sales of electric energy to final consumers, however, occur via committed services or sales. All of the above methods of distributing electricity from wind power involve currencies and markets.
Understanding Patterns of Abundance and Scarcity
Technical Feasibility of Wind Energy
It is apparent that the use of fossil fuels has been steadily increasing but the amount of fossil fuels in the earth is not being replenished, which has led to warning about the dangers of "peak oil." The burning of fossil fuels is of course also the major cause of global climate change. The environmental impacts of fossil fuel use also include air pollution (for example, acid rain, particulates, oxides of nitrogen, ozone), the destruction of landscapes (for example, mountaintop removal for coal mining), and earthquakes (associated with fracking for natural gas mining). Together, these concerns have led to increased interests in renewable and non-polluting sources of energy, especially solar and wind energy. Hence, "growing at a yearly rate of 38 percent, by June 2010 wind installations reached a global capacity of about 175,000 megawatts" (Pasqualetti 2001).
Some areas are more well suited for this kind of energy and research has been conducted to find such areas. Generally, wind speeds are greater in flat open areas, on mountain ridges or passes, and above the sea and along shorelines. The technical feasibility of building wind turbines does not just depend on wind speeds, however, but also on the challenges of building technical infrastructure in the sea, for example. Meanwhile, some studies have begun to evaluate the possibility of harvesting wind energy that moves around buildings in large cities (see as an example Kuck, 2009). As technology advances, wind energy is becoming more feasible in a variety of locations.
Another challenge is that wind is not constant – in most locations, windy days alternate with windless days, and hurricane-force winds can also force wind turbines to be shut down. This variability is only predictable to a degree, making it more difficult for power managers to plan which facilities to use in order to substitute for wind power when there is a lack of wind. Technologically, this issue can be addressed by developing complementary sources of power (e.g., wind as well as solar energy, as well as some storable sources of energy such as biomass, natural gas, or hydropower from dams), as well as "smart grids" that use information and communication technologies to rapidly adjust supply to demand. For the complementarity of wind and solar energy in the case of Oklahoma (meaning that the sun often shines when there is no wind, and the wind often blows when there is no sun), see Li et al. 2010.
The cost of wind power has been a major deterrent to using it, but this has been coming down rapidly in recent years and is now competitive with coal in many places (especially with new coal power plants). The major barrier here for small investors is that they need to come up with the investment costs up front, even if they save substantial amounts of money over the life of the investment. Governments can help with this issue by providing easier financing terms.
Despite these challenges, wind energy now generates electricity carbon free and with no long-term wastes, cooling water is unneeded, turbines are simple to install on a variety of terrain, and the successful operations produce electricity both reliably and profitably.
Controversies around Wind Energy
There has, however, been some controversy surrounding the increased usage of wind farms. One criticism is that wind farms are not visually appealing, or that they cause noise pollution, or that the shadows of the moving turbine blades are a constant irritant. This tends to be one of the highest ranking concerns for communities, especially if tourism is a large part of their income. There are potential interferences with visual aesthetics, radar operations, property values, tourist attractions, and a sense of serenity. Some changes that are already being made to appease those opposed are that turbines are now routinely painted to blend in and be less noticeable in their environments, busy lattice towers have been giving way to sleeker monopoles, and various technical adjustments have reduced noise. Unfortunately, they cannot be made completely invisible or silent so some people are still opposed. Beyond these technical adjustments, many developers now take care to site turbines in such a way that their impacts on people and landscapes are minimized.
Conservationists have raised concerns about the impacts of wind turbines on wildlife, especially birds and bats, that may be killed by rapidly spinning turbine blades. Better siting of wind turbines is the major method to address such concerns.
Resistance in many communities accompanies the perception that wind projects are being imposed on them by outsiders, especially if the local communities receive few of the financial benefits. To address this issue, large wind power companies have simply paid off the people (mostly farmers) on whose land they install wind turbines. However, this concern can be addressed more fully if local communities actually finance, own, and operate the wind turbines themselves, as is commonly the case in Denmark.
Community solidarity has not been reached in many areas where wind farms have been installed and this is a major factor in the resistance to use wind energy. It is important that all stakeholders in a community come to an agreement about the sharing of benefits, costs, and responsibilities of wind energy use. A commons-based strategy in this regard is the development of community-based wind power projects.
Denmark is an early pioneer in wind power development, and still is the country where the largest percentage of electric power is generated from wind. The country pioneered through research programs involving a partnership between government and industry, and by promoting the establishment of local wind power cooperatives that own and operate their own wind turbines.
More details on the Danish experience are needed!
Germany soon followed Denmark's lead in wind power generation; wind power along with solar energy account for a rapid increase of renewable electric power generation from a few percent in the late 1990's (mostly based on hydropower) to over 20% by 2013. One of the key features of the German program is the "feed-in tariff" created by the Renewable Energies Act (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz) that created reverse metering – small producers of wind power can sell the energy they generate back to the grid at the same price as they pay for electric power. This helped spawn major investments in renewable energy by distributed energy generators. Since large numbers of people directly benefited, this also helped create strong support for renewables (both wind and solar). For a case study of the success of the program in North-Rhine Westfalia (the most populous German state), see Breukers (2006).
Unfortunately, the market mechanisms implemented in Germany (due to the political influence of the four major oligopoly suppliers) mean that, even while the costs of renewable energy are declining, an increasing share of renewable energy in the electric supply mix does not lead to reduced costs for consumers, but rather the reverse. The oligopoly suppliers use this to put pressure on the government to reduce the further expansion of renewable sources of energy, which would eliminate the need for the existing (and highly profitable) coal and nuclear power plants.
Palm Springs, California
Business owners and public officials fretted that wind turbines would be considered eyesores by visitors seeking the calm, restful, and sophisticated lifestyle that this desert oasis tries to sell. Palm Springs annexed several square miles of land occupied by the wind turbines and started receiving tax revenues. Opinions improved with the adoption of procedural adjustments developed by Palm Springs and Riverside County. "Over the next ten years these adjustments, coupled with improvements in design, construction, and operation, produced a gradual shift in public opinion from opposition to mild indifference. By the turn of the millennium, the reversal was complete: The Chamber of Commerce, local hotels, and postcard publishers often promote wind farms that are literally in the backyard of Palm Springs. Tours of the wind farms are available, and even local property owners have come to terms with the installations as a part of the new landscape" (Pasqualetti 2011).
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Visual change it would produce and the impact of such changes on the local economy.
Arguing that developers are “trying to privatize the commons”.
Threats to the health of marine life and birds, navigational safety, water quality, and infringement on ancient Native American burial sites. (Pasqualetti 2011)
Community-based wind power projects
The Windustry web-page provides case studies of community-based wind power developments in the US.
In the Isle of Lewis in Scotland, local people worry that wind power development will bring about a weakening of the cultural roots and conservative lifestyles (very remote and people do not use much electricity).
Resistance to the wind proposals on Lewis is tied in part to its large scale.
Negative impacts on the economy, ruin the peat bogs (preserved areas), and threaten the integrity of some of the most impressive megaliths in Europe, the Callanish Standing Stones.
Local residents hold little stake in its success. (Pasqualetti 2011)
As explained by Breukers (2006), the UK was relatively late to promote wind power compared to Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Spain, among others. The government tends to favor developments by large corporations, many of which are not based in the UK, let alone in the local communities where they build the wind turbines. This means that there is very little local stake in wind power development, and concerns about conservation and landscape impacts play a much larger role.
In the lowlands of Oaxaca, local wind power development does not mean local benefit.
Among the grievances is that people who live and work in the fields will receive meager lease payments from the projects, perhaps $125 per hectare per year for a single turbine (most would receive less than $125). In comparison, U.S. wind turbines typically return $3,000 to $5,000 per year.
Based on local landowners’ negative negotiating experiences with the CFE, discomfort with the broad freedoms granted to multinational corporations and an increasing concern about the possible environmental consequences of the wind farms themselves. (Pasqualetti 2011).
Approaches toward greater Abundance
The case studies show the vital importance of working with rather than against local communities in developing wind power projects. The best way to obtain actual community support is to ensure that local communities have a large share of the ownership of a project – not just a "feeling" of ownership, but actual ownership that includes decision-making (e.g., about siting), and financial benefits of ownership. If that happens, many of the concerns either disappear, or viable solutions can be found.
Main routes toward increased use of wind power that are environmentally and socially sustainable thus include:
- Advances in technology can continue to find new ways to use wind energy more efficiently, including on or near buildings, and to integrate wind power with other sources of electric power.
- Social innovation regarding community-based wind power development can assure that benefits and responsibilities are shared equitably.
- Financial mechanisms to promote investments in wind power, especially by individuals and communities.
- Increasing education on the benefits of wind energy may help communities to accept building wind farms.
- Improvements in communication between energy companies, individuals in the community, and local businesses can increase awareness of what using clean energy can do for themselves and the environment.
With an increased use of wind energy, individuals may spend less money on energy and be able to use this excess towards other necessities or enjoyment.
Related Links and Stories
IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency)
- Global Atlas for Renewable Energy: Overview of Solar and Wind Maps (2014)
- Global Atlas for Renewable Energy
- Renewable Energy Country Profiles
International Energy Agency/International Renewable energy Agency: IEA/IRENA Global Renewable Energy Joint Policies and Measures Database.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century. Renewables 2012 Global Status Report.
Windustry (non-profit that promotes community-owned wind projects in the US)
World Wind Energy Association, 2014: WWEA World Wind Resource Assessment Report. Includes wind maps of many countries around the world, and shows that wind power potential vastly surpasses world power demand.
Breukers, Sylvia. 2006. Changing Institutional Landscapes for Implementing Wind Power. A geographical comparison of institutional capacity-building: the Netherlands, England, and North Rhine-Westphalia. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press.
Kuck, Sarah. 2009. The Jellyfish, Plug-In Windpower for Every Home. Worldchanging website.
Li, Weiping, Stadler, Steve, & Ramakumar, Rama. 2010. Modeling and Assessment of Wind and Insolation Resources with a Focus on Their Complementary Nature: A Case Study of Oklahoma. Annals of the Association of American Geographers.
Pasqualetti, Martin. 2011a. Opposing Wind Energy Landscapes: A Search for Common Cause. Annals of the Association of American Geographers.
Pasqualetti, Martin. 2011b. Social Barriers to Renewable Energy Landscapes. The Geographical Review.
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