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OWOE - Wind Power - What are the pros and cons of wind energy?
  Figure 1 - Decline in Unsubsidized Levelized Cost of Energy - Wind (Lazard)
 
Figure 1 - Decline in Unsubsidized Levelized Cost of Energy - Wind (Lazard)
 
Figure 2 - Unsubsidized Levelized Cost of Energy Comparison (Lazard 2016)
 
Figure 3 - Summer and Annual Wind Load Availability (ERCOT)
 
What are the pros and cons of wind energy?

Wind is a clean and renewable source of energy that is in abundant supply. However, wind power has its challenges. In particular, it is dependent on wind speed and direction, and many of the best locations for wind are distant from population centers that are users of the electricity. This requires significant investment in infrastructure in addition to the cost of the wind farm itself. Despite these challenges, over the past several years, wind power has been the largest source of new electrical generation in the US. This has been driven primarily by the rapid decline in wind power costs. Figure 1 is plot of Levelized Cost of Electricity (LCOE), which represents the per-kilowatthour cost of building and operating a generating plant, for new wind developments over time. It can be seen that over the past 6 years, wind power's LCOE has reduced by 61%. As a result, without consideration of infrastructure investment, in many locations and conditions wind is the least expensive form of both renewable energy and conventional energy available today, as illustrated in Figure 2.

The major pros for wind energy are:
  • Clean energy with no greenhouse emissions.
  • Renewable and sustainable.
  • Abundant domestic supply (estimated at 16 times current electric demand).
  • Because of its modular nature, it is easy to add capacity as needed.
  • No fuel cost and overall operating costs are low.
  • Can be used for small scale residential/commercial and large scale utility needs.
  • New technology will continue to drive down costs.
The major cons are:
  • Wind is inconsistent, unsteady and unpredictable, although long term statistics can be used to better understand and plan for variability at any given source.
  • Wind often generates the most power when it is the least needed, e.g., at night and during the winter months. Figure 3 from ERCOT (Electric Reliabilty Council of Texas) demonstrates this challenge by plotting both average summer and annual load demand with average wind availability. For both cases, availability is almost completely out of phase with need.
  • Locations with large potential for wind energy are often a large distance from cities, requiring significant investments in transmission infrastructure; however, this economic burden will continue to decrease as infrastructure is built and becomes available to tie-in new power sources
  • Installation and hardware costs are reducing, but total cost is still not competitive with other energy sources without government subsidies.
  • Wind farms can be considered eyesores.
  • Wildlife impact; however, modern turbines are much more bird friendly than initial installations. See OWOE: What is the impact of wind energy on the environment?
At this time wind is the second largest source for renewable and non-polluting energy in the US, and within several years is expected to be the largest, surpassing hydropower. It is the best option in the short term for displacing a significant percentage of fossil fuel based energy.

At the end of 2015 the US Congress voted to extend the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC) for another 5 years, which should help maintain investment in new wind power and drive technological advancements that will continue to reduce the cost of wind on a kW basis.


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