Posted January 4, 2017 11:23 am - Updated January 4, 2017 12:01 pm

Benefits and Challenges of Wind Energy

Texas is the number one leader of wind power in the nation and has three times the installed wind energy capacity of any other state, which is enough to power 4.1 million homes (Houston Chronicle, 2016). We spoke with Dr. Pattison and Kyle Jay from the National Wind Institute (NWI) to discuss more about wind farms and the benefits and challenges to wind energy. 

One single wind turbine lasts for about 20 years and each of the three blades weigh 6 tons. Many parts of the turbine are recyclable. The blades are made out of fiberglass and the tower column is made from steel. The industry is working on ways to reduce the weight of turbines so they can be more efficient in production. NWI has two turbines in the 67-acre field near Reese Technology Center, GE and Alstom, obtaining their certification to be sold in the US. Many companies also have wind turbines there in order for NWI to test before they are set up in the fields. There are 2-4 turbines placed per square mile and take up a 70 Ft. diameter circle. The turbines can be placed in the corners of the fields in order to not interfere with the irrigation pivots and only take up 1-2% of area in the field. The turbines are placed in a particular pattern in order to produce the most energy and to reduce wake effects. 

There is no cleaner source of energy than wind power. Other than the manufacture and installation of turbines, there are no greenhouse gasses emitted in the production of wind energy. Water is only used in the occasional cleaning of the blades. The turbines are designed to be repairable with replaceable parts. When a part breaks, it can easily be replaced without taking down and putting up a complete new model. Compared to solar, wind energy is more economical to produce. Wind energy has currently produced as much as 40% of Texas power needs and growing.

While there are many benefits to using wind turbines to produce energy, there are several challenges as well. For example, there is no way to store energy produced by wind turbines, so if there is excess power produced during non-peak hours, other energy sources are turned off. It is not difficult to meet energy needs on less windy days, but if there were a way to store excess energy produced during the night, this would not be an issue. Another challenge is predicting wind flows in order to have the best production. It is extremely important to accurately predict which direction the wind blows in an area in order to position the wind turbines efficiently. 

Wind turbines have been given a bad rap for their effects on bird and bat population. Large, high flying migratory species and raptors are killed by hitting the large blades. Bats get killed not by hitting the blades, but by the rapid change in air pressure when they fly near the blades. In Lubbock,TX the primary concern is for red tailed hawks. This problem has been mitigated with several safeguards. Flight paths can be identified before building a wind farm to keep out of the way of migrations or birds on the hunt. Turbines can be shut down when radar detects birds or bats in the area or at certain times of the day when local bird or bat populations are most active. Ongoing research is continuing to make the production of wind energy less dangerous for wildlife including the use of deterrents and changes in the design of the turbines.  

Roscoe Wind Farm is one of the world’s largest wind farms in the world. It is operated by E.ON Climate & Renewables and has 634 wind turbines that produce 781.5 megawatts of energy. The wind farm was created in 2009 in Roscoe, TX, and is situated in 100,000 acres of land used for cotton farming. The entire wind plant is capable of producing power to 265,000 homes. Wind energy is not only good for the environment but it makes a difference in people’s lives. Kyle Jay was provided with the opportunity to go to college with royalties that his parents made from wind turbines on the family farm. He went to school to study wind energy, and is now an instructor at NWI at Texas Tech University. 

This blog was produced by TTU Climate Science Center and was written by Susan Gillette, Breanna McKercher, Kylie Naughton, Dr. Chris Pattison, and Kyle Jay. 

Jeffrey Clark 6 months ago
Excellent review.