Impact of Wind Energy on a Sustainable World Essay Sample

Impact of Wind Energy on a Sustainable World Pages
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Is wind power green?
Wind power, considered a ‘green energy’, has generally less negative effects on the environment; however, various implementations can have devastating ecological impact and ought to be avoided. Only with a realistic and critical analysis can we compare wind power to other sources.

II. Wind power compared to other sources of power (Independent of environmental impact).

What is the net energy analysis of wind power, independent of environmental impact? In other words, compare the energy delivered to a society to “the total energy required to find, extract, process, deliver, and otherwise upgrade that energy to a socially useful form” (Cleveland, 2007). Knowing that some of the arguments against ethanol as a viable alternative were that it would take more energy to produce than we would receive, is wind actually a viable source of power?

1 A. Supporting Evidence

1) The Energy Payback Ratio (EPR) is “the amount of electrical energy produced for the lifetime of the power plant divided by the total amount of energy required to procure and transport the materials, build, operate, and decommission the power plants” (White, 2006). The higher the EPR, the greater the energy gain a technology creates. Based on studying three wind power sites, the EPR for utility-scale wind systems range from 11 to 28 as compared to 11 for coal and between 7 and 10 for nuclear (White, 2006). 2)

An additional study looks at the energy return on investment (EROI), which is “the ratio of energy delivered to energy costs” (Cleveland, 2007). With regards to wind power, the cost is the primary energy used in the manufacture, transport, construction, operation, decommissioning, and other stages of the facility’s life cycle (attach figure)” (Cleveland, 2007). Reviewing 119 wind turbines from 50 different analyses ranging from 1977 to 2006 show an average EROI of operational studies to be 19.8 (n=60, std. dev=13.7). Increasing the power rating of the turbine increases the EROI (attach figure), despite requiring a greater initial energy investment, due to the turbines having greater rotor diameters and also due to technology improving the effectiveness of larger turbines over smaller ones. Also, larger turbines are often taller and take advantage of the higher winds that exist farther above the ground.

3) Why does this not show economically if wind power has the greatest EROI?

1. “Conventional economic perception of the ‘value’ of primary energy resources is incomplete and poentially misleading, in that it does not adequately take account of the factors which constrain a society’s ability to obtain useful consumer energy from such sources.” (Peet et al, 1987)

2. “The uncontrolled, intermittent nature of wind reduces its value relative to operator-controlled resources such as coal, gas, or nuclear generation. Intermittency impacts include the seasonal and diurnal match or mis-match to regional energy demands; the contribution of wind energy to capacity reserves for meeting regional reliability requirements; and the lost value to wind plant owners in surplus generation that occurs when wind power saturates the flexible dispatch portion of grid operations” (Cleveland, 2007).

3. “At about 6 or 7 megawatts per square kilometer of net power potential, wind plants are necessarily spread-out over a significant land area. Thus, wind plants must compete with alternative uses of these land resources. In some cases such as agricultural land, multiple simultaneous use is possible. In other cases the competition is stiff. The value of some lands for other types of development (such as urban or housing development) has limited and will limit wind power location options. This is especially true when the land is a signficant source of aesthetic and/or recreational value” (Cleveland, 2007).

4. “The dramatic cost reductions in the manufacture of new wind turbines that characterized the past two decades may be slowing. Part of the slowing may be due to transient factors such as short-term increases in raw material prices; unfavorable exchange rates; insufficient global and domestic manufacturing capability (exacerbated by short-term uncertainty in government subsidy policies); and exercise of market power by the consolidating manufacturing industry. It also is possible that the industry is experiencing diminishing returns to cost reductions via learning-by-doing” (Cleveland, 2007).

4) What are existing costs per mWH?

2 B. Explanation

1) Comparing the EROI of wind power to potential future generation options (attach figure) makes it a significant winner; however issues with the nature of wind power (intermittent and uncontrolled), excessive use of land, and increases in raw material prices are causing it to be overlooked. Specifically, with raw materials, export quotas on necessary materials have created issues with supplying manufacturers (Bradsher, 2010). 2) Also, the market price

3) Given massive yearly reductions in cost for wind turbines, it has been considered more ‘economical’ to wait another year to benefit from the reduced costs. Analyzing wind power from a return on investment implies waiting till prices stabalize.

3 C. So What?

The EROI for wind energy makes it an applicable source of power; however, the existing costs and economic situation are making investments low.

III. Wind power compared to other sources of power (Dependent of environmental impact).

Why is wind energy considered green? Wind power is often considered to consume nothing and produces no pollution; however, as mentioned above, energy is used to create the turbines, and thus an analysis of energy output per emission is required.

1 A. Supporting Evidence

1) Wind power consumes no fuel and no water (Anadon, 2010). 2) Wind power produces no carbon dioxide, mercury, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulates, or any other air pollution, unlike fossil fuel sources, and no radioactive wastes unlike nuclear power plants. However, the manufacturing and construction of wind turbines (involving mostly steel, concrete, and aluminum) and the required transportation to site is typically energy-intensive and often requires fossil fuel energy sources. Combining all these factors, the CO2 emissions per GWh of energy produced is between 14 to 33 tonnes (compared to 974 tonnes for coal and between 10 and 34 tons for nuclear), with most of the energy requirements coming from the concrete required for foundations (White, 2006).

2 B. Explanation

1. Compared to fossil fuels, wind power as a source of energy produces fewer green-house gas emissions. Compared to nuclear, it is equal or possibly less efficient in terms of CO2 output per unit of energy; however, wind energy does not produce radioactive wastes, nor is it risky.

3 C. So What?

Wind power may have to compete with nuclear as far as ‘greenest’ source of energy when it comes to CO2 emissions; however, factoring in the risk associated with nuclear, wind takes the cake.

IV. Manufacturing Wind Power – the Environmental Impact

Wind turbines typically require neodyminum, a rare earth metal, used in the production of permanent magnets. This metal is primarily exported by China, and due to the country’s low environmental standards, the increased mining operations due to heavy demand from an increase wind turbine industry have created serious environmental damage.

1 A. Supporting Evidence

1) “Neodymium has made the headlines recently because its extraction partly involves significant environmental damage. China, where neodymium-containing rocks are quarried in mines, is the main supplier of this so-called rare earth element. According to investigations by Germany’s NDR TV station, separation of neodymium from mined rocks results in toxic waste products (Menschen und Schlagzeilen and Panorama television magazines aired on 27 and 28 April). In addition, radioactive uranium and thorium are released by the mining process. These substances find their way into the ground water, heavily contaminating plant and animal life. They are seen as harmful to humans. According to the reports, part of the locals at the neodymium production sites in Baotou in northern China are already seriously ill” (Enercon, 2011). 2) Particularly hazardous is the mild radioactive slurry tailings (containing trace uranium and thorium) as a consequence of improperly managed rare earth metal ore mining. “Several factors make purification of rare earths complicated. First, the 17 elements all tend to occur together in the same mineral deposits, and because they have similar properties, it’s difficult to separate them from one another.

They also tend to occur in deposits with radioactive elements, particularly thorium and uranium. Those elements can become a threat if the “tailings,” the slushy waste product of the first step in separating rare earths from the rocks they’re found in, are not dealt with properly” (Bourzac, 2010). 3) “Across China, rare earth mines have scarred valleys by stripping topsoil and pumping thousands of gallons of acid into streambeds” (Bradsher, 2010). “[China] currently controls most of the globe’s rare earths supply not just because of geologic good fortune, although there is some of that, but because the country has been willing to do dirty, toxic and often radioactive work that the rest of the world has long shunned. Despite producing 95 percent of the world’s rare earths, China has only 37 percent of the world’s proven reserves” (Bradsher, 2010). 4) “China’s rare earth output cannot be raised fast enough to meet the entire world’s needs, as there are environmental factors to be taken into consideration with an increase in rare earth production,” said Zhang Peichen, the deputy director of the government-backed Baotou Research Institute of Rare Earths, the main research group for the Chinese industry.

5) If that ain’t enough : “The mines of southern China are essentially free of thorium and have rare earths that are easily separated from the clay by dumping the ore in acid. But this relatively easy process, and soaring prices on the world market, has led to the development of many illegal mines, which sell to organized crime syndicates that pay for rare earth concentrate with sacks of cash” (Bradsher, 2010). 6) “Official studies carried out five years ago in Dalahai village confirmed there were unusually high rates of cancer along with high rates of osteoporosis and skin and respiratory diseases. The lake’s radiation levels are ten times higher than in the surrounding countryside, the studies found. Since then, maybe because of pressure from the companies operating around the lake, which pump out waste 24 hours a day, the results of ongoing radiation and toxicity tests carried out on the lake have been kept secret and officials have refused to publicly acknowledge health risks to nearby villages” (Parry, 2011).

2 B. Explanation

The required materials to manufacture a wind turbine are currently being mined in a way to create tremendous enviromental impact.

3 C. So What?

1) Research is ongoing into replacing the need for neodymium in producing wind turbines, thus making their use entirely sustainable. The market has reacted with at least one wind turbine manufacturer chosing to avoid the use of the magnets in their designs (Enercon, 2011). 2) Research is also ongoing into improving the refining process for neodymium, making for less of an environmental impact. In 2009, Ames Laboratory researchers began work on a greener process for refining neodymium. Instead of two steps, “It is a one-step process going from the neodymium oxide to the neodymium master alloy,” Gschneidner explains, “and since the end-products are completely utilized, there are no waste materials to dispose of” (Ingebretsen, 2011). 3) Regulations are in place in Europe, limiting the use of poorly mined neodymium. Standards and restrictions are being created to reduce the impact of wind power alternatives on the environment, making it a ‘greener’ solution.

V. The Application of Wind Power – Ecological Impact

1 A. Supporting Evidence

Birds die

2 B. Explanation

Bureau of Land Management getting smart on how to study the impact of potential wind power sites on existing bird populations, and future bird populations based on climate change.

3 C. So What?

Great effort must be taken to avoid placing wind turbines in areas which could effect the local bird and bat populations, and possible migratory routes of birds, for now and in the distant future.

V. Conclusion

1 A. Rephrase thesis statement

A thorough awareness of the environmental impacts of wind power and likely government intervention and regulation to avoid them will truly make wind power a source of green energy.

2 B. Bring closure by going from specific to broad

1) “No way of generating energy is 100 per cent clean and problem-free,” says Craig Bennett, director of policy and campaigns at Friends of the Earth. “Wind energy causes far fewer problems than coal, gas or nuclear. If we don’t invest in green energy, business experts have warned that future generations will be landed with a bill that will dwarf the current financial crisis. But we need to ensure the use of materials like neodymium and concrete is kept to a minimum, that turbines use recycled materials wherever possible and that they are carefully sited to the reduce the already minimal impact on bird populations.”

7 Reference Page:

Anadon, L.D., Mielke, E., Narayanamurti, V. (2010). Water Consumption of Energy Resource Extraction, Processing, and Conversion. Energy Technology Innovation Policy Research Group of the Harvard Kennedy School, 37.

Bourzac, K. (2010). Can the U.S. Rare-Earth Industry Rebound? MIT Technology
Review, 3.

Bradsher, K. (2010, October 29). After China’s Rare Earth Embargo, a New Calculus. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Cleveland, C., Kubiszewski, I. (2007). Energy return on investment (EROI) for Wind Energy. The Encyclopedia of Earth.

Enercon (2011, April 29). Enercon WECs produce clean energy without neodymium. ENERCON News. Retrieved from

Ingebretsen, M. (2011). Developing greener, cheaper magnets. Retrieved from

Parry, S. (2011, January 26). In China, the true cost of Britain’s clean, green wind power experiment: Pollution on a disastrous scale. Daily Mail. Retrieved from

White, S.W. (2006). Net Energy Payback and CO2 Emissions from Three Midwestern Wind Farms: An Update, Naural Resources Research, 15(4), 271-281.

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