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Environmental Issues
Going Green

By Alan J Hartley

Wind Farms.



There is a lot of debate about wind energy, how green it is, how efficient or useful and how unsightly the turbines are. From a domestic point of view there are few instances where it can really be said to be an ideal form of green energy, (see article) but in large-scale commercial applications, there are a lot more plus points and even more benefits to off shore-based systems.

Denmark is said to be the biggest European user of wind energy with about 20% of itís electricity being generated by wind power, but the ideas are catching on all over the world with very large growth in developing countries. Surprisingly, very hot countries, such as many of those in Africa, are also trying the new technology. High temperatures create large movements of air and therefore, in the right places, lots of useable wind. Kenya hopes to build the biggest wind farm in Africa in the desert around Lake Turkana where 365 turbines will be installed at a cost of some £500m.

Britain has about 250 land based wind farms and only 12 more offshore, but earlier in the year licences were granted for a further 9 within UK waters. The nine new areas for wind generation could generate about 100 times as much as the new Kenyan wind farm.

There seems to be a Government push to develop wind power, but some question the logic of creating too much dependency on wind power, because when the wind doesnít blow there is no electricity. Critics point out that just because the weather may be cold it does not mean that it will be windy. When we had our last very cold spell and demand for power was high, there was no wind at all as the patch of cold  air sat over the country for days on end, however, this does not happen so often out at sea where the wind usually blows more reliably.

There are attempts to store excess energy created at windy times, as usable potential energy creating, hydrogen. This can then be used in fuel cells at a later date when there is no wind, or, there is a greater demand, but the technology is still in itís infancy. At the present then, sometimes, too much energy is created and turbines have to be shut down to balance the National Grid power requirements. Recently, Scottish Power, shut down two wind farms and received a far higher compensation figure than would normally be associated with similar coal power generation capacity. Even so, defendants of wind power, claim that offshore wind turbines in the UK are producing power more cheaply than our newest, nuclear power station. It is frequently pointed out that no power stations operate at full efficiency, or even maximum output, all of the time.

Objectors to wind farms often claim that that they are a hazard to the bird population, but research has proved that only one bird per turbine is killed each year, however, unexpectedly up to 31 bats are killed by the strong air currents around the turbines on land based systems. A big plus point concerning land based wind turbines is that they actually take up very little land space compared to a traditional power station. The wind farms do cover a large area, but land can be farmed and ploughed with crops planted right around the base of the turbines. Against them there is also much objection about the unsightliness of the enormous turbines on land, so perhaps Britain would be better to create more wind farms in the sea. Being an island nation we have a disproportionate amount of coastline to most countries as well as having a lot of wind. With this in mind the world's largest offshore wind farm has recently opened in the U.K. Situated 12 miles off the SE coast, it will utilise 341 turbines when complete, but as yet only 100 have come on line.  In full operation the system has the potential to power 200,000 homes and make a 30-per-cent increase in British wind generation capacity. The expected energy from this wind farm, will however, only be a tiny proportion of our total energy requirements.

Spain recently set the record for wind generation, as a percentage of total demand, when 40% of their electricity in one day was created by wind turbines during particularly strong winds, with just over 11 GWh of power generated. However, Britainís wind industry set itís own record recently when 40 GWh out of a total 800 GWh of power was generated over a 24 hour period, by wind power alone, the equivalent energy production, of three nuclear power stations.



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Alan J Hartley