Lentis/Wind Energy

Wind energy is energy taken from wind. It can come in many forms such as wind turbines producing electrical power, windmills producing mechanical power, windpumps, or even ship sails. Large wind farms consist of many wind turbines, and can either be offshore or on land. Offshore provides benefits in being away from sight and providing more energy, but also has higher costs to maintain.

Offshore wind farm using 5MW turbines in the North Sea, Belgium

Wind power is a renewable and clean energy source and can serve as an alternative to fossil fuels. However, there are many issues surrounding wind energy, which has limited its growth.


Wikipedia Article on the History of Wind Power

Besides transportation, the earliest known use of wind as an energy source was its conversion to mechanical power in Persia sometime between 1000-200BC. The converter was a vertical axis windmill that turned a millstone, which ground grains for flour production. This design was later brought to Europe possibly by the Crusaders and windmill abundance increased dramatically in the 1200s.[1] In 1888 Charles Brush designed and built the first wind turbine to generate electricity, which was stored in batteries for his household use.[2] The system produced about 12KW and lasted about 20 years. In 1892 Danish scientist Dane Poul La Cour came up with the first modern design of the wind turbine based on the aerodynamic principles.[3]

Alternative Uses Besides ElectricityEdit

Badgir in Dolatabad Gardens, highest in the world at 34m, Yazd, Iran[4]

Historically, wind has been used in non-electricity generating technologies such as the windcatcher. Windcatchers have been used for many centuries to create natural ventilation in buildings in central Iran. The structure directs wind down into the building and pulls air out of the building from the opposite side. Inside the building there is usually a pool or a decorating water fountain. The rapid evaporation of this water due to the very low air humidity of the area can significantly cool down the building and act as a natural air conditioning system. Although windcatchers have long been forgotten to the extent that even people in Iran may not have heard of them, a comeback is possible. BBC reported a design of a zero emission home in 2007 claiming that it will set the environmental standards for all new homes in the future. One of the main components was a wind catcher for ventilation.[5]

Benefits of Wind EnergyEdit

While environmental pollution and the emission of carbon dioxide from the use of fossil fueld constitute a threat to health, the environment and sustainable economic growth, wind energy is a source of clean, non-polluting electricity. Wind turbines cause virtually no emissions during their operation and very little during their manufacture, installation, maintenance and removal. According to the United States Department of Energy, in 1990, California's wind power plants offset the emission of more than 2.5 billion pounds of carbon dioxide, and 15 million pounds of other pollutants that would have otherwise been produced.[6] It would take a forest of 90 million to 175 million trees to provide the same air quality. Moreover, wind energy can provide incomes for rural areas.

The table below shows a comparison of cost per kilowatt hour of different energy sources. The direct cost includes maintenance and fuel costs and is weighted by a capacity factor. The indirect cost is based on social implications such as health costs, climate costs, waste disposal and decommissioning. [7] [8]

Energy Source Direct Cost Indirect Cost Total Cost
Coal 3.14 6.43 10.29
Nuclear 2.16 0.25 3.31
Natural Gas 4.95 2.27 8.09
Solar 18.12 Not Quantified 18.12
Wind 3.14 Not Quantified 3.45

By 2020, taking European Wind Energy Association projections that 180GW of wind energy would be generating 425 TWh per annum[9], wind power will provide annual savings of:

• 215 million tonnes CO2

• 261,000 tonnes SO2

• 333,000 tonnes NOx.

Technical IssuesEdit

Industrial ConflictsEdit

A substantial disadvantage of wind energy is the negative effect that it has on radar systems. Wind turbines can have a shadowing effect and hide other craft's radar signatures or confuse operators as their radar shapes continually shift with changing rotational speed[10]. In turn the industries that use radar such as merchant marine, air traffic and weather prediction can be affected. In 2014, an article estimated that close to 20 GW of wind energy was being held up due to radar interference [11].

A Danish wind turbine company, Vestas, and U.K. defense contractor, QinetiQ, exhibited the first "stealth" wind turbine blade. Much of this technology borrows from the stealth aircraft technology. The use of a similar coating helps eliminate the tower's signal, but would make the blades too heavy. Composite materials are used in the blade construction. This technology is only part of the solution as "crucial factors include the type of radar in use, distance from radar towers, and type and distribution of wind turbines." [10]

France was the first nation to build a "stealth" wind farm, and proposed to have it in operation by 2015. The wind farm would be the largest in France at the time, as it would produce 96 MW of capacity. It is estimated that 6 GW of wind energy projects have been blocked due to the possibility of interference with military or weather radar, along with military flight training. [12]

A visual comparison of storms and wind turbine returns on doppler radar system[13]

It was estimated that close to 10 GW of wind projects were tied up due to radar interference in the U.K. in 2009. The U.K. was working with Canadian based Raytheon in 2009 to develop signal processing algorithms that can identify stationary objects such as wind turbines and disregard their signatures. Raytheon projected to have these products in place by 2011 "for both short and long-range radar systems, and will have demonstrated not only that they can erase wind farms from radar screens but also that they can retain valid stationary targets such as hot-air or weather balloons." [10]

Many wind energy projects have been halted or slowed due to the concerns of radar interference in the U.S. such as Cape Wind in Massachusetts. It was held up by its proximity to Otis Airforce Base and two other radar stations. A study commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security proposed one solution by "replacing aging analog radar stations with modern digital equipment." The FAA was under negotiation with Cape Wind for precisely this solution to the wind project's problem. This and the use of products similar to Raytheon's radar programs would benefit the radar infrastructure as well as wind projects.[10]

Supply and Storage IssuesEdit

The best option for wind is as distributed power[14]. Electricity generated from wind power can be highly variable at several different timescales: from hour to hour, daily, and seasonally. Wind also tends to be complementary to solar. This means that wind energy is an intermittent technology that can be used only when resources are available. The intermittence of wind hinders the economic competitiveness of the resource, because instantaneous electrical generation and consumption must remain in balance to maintain grid stability.

Cost IssuesEdit

Even though the cost of wind power has decreased dramatically in the past 10 years, the technology requires a higher initial investment than fossil-fueled generators. Intermittency and the non-dispatchable nature of wind energy production can raise costs for regulation, incremental operating reserve, and could require an increase in the already existing energy demand management, or storage solutions.[15]

Environmental ConcernsEdit

Although wind power plants have relatively little impact on the environment compared to fossil fuel power plants, the environmental issues include how the turbines appear in a landscape, the sound they make and their effect on birds and other wildlife. Gilead Power Corporation is a renewable energy development company based in Ontario presented an extensive plan to monitor the effects of the Ostrander Point Wind Energy Park on the surrounding ecosystem. This plan includes contingencies if the results do not meet the federal regulations that were put in place around this time. The proposed post-construction observation was to assess the impacts on "mortality of breeding birds, migratory landbirds, migratory raptors (fall) and bats effects of disturbance on breeding birds, migratory landbirds, and amphibians; and the effectiveness of mitigation in the form of alvar restoration and management". [16]


Like all mechanical systems, wind turbines produce some noise when they operate. In recent years, engineers have made design changes to reduce the noise from wind turbines. Infrasound and low frequency noise is at the forefront of the health and environmental effects debate. Infrasound and low frequency noise is thought to contribute to disturbances in mating habits for species that use audible location, and is the main contributor of Wind Turbine Syndrome, discussed more in-depth later. Specific opponents to wind energy have dedicated sections of web pages to promoting biological effects of noise on wildlife such as the website www.windturbinewildlifehell.org. [17]

Avian/Bat MortalityEdit

Bird and bat deaths are one of the most controversial biological issues related to wind turbines. The deaths of birds and bats at wind farm sites have raised concerns by fish and wildlife agencies and conservation groups.

  • Measuring the Problem
The Wildlife Society Bulletin conducted a study in March of 2013 that "estimated 888,000 bat and 573,000 bird fatalities/year"[18] occur as a result of wind turbines in the United States alone. To put this death toll in prospective, 970 million crash into buildings, 175 million crash into power lines, 72 million die from pesticides, and 1 million die from oil and gas spills[19].
  • Legislation
In November of 2013 the United States government ruled that Duke Energy Corp. would pay a one million dollar fine after pleading guilty to killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds. This marked the first time in US history that government enforced environmental laws protecting birds from wind turbine farms[20]. This ruling may remain the only of its kind as the Obama administration announced just a few weeks later on the 6th of December that "it will allow some companies to kill or injure bald and golden eagles for up to 30 years without penalty, an effort to spur development and investment in green energy while balancing its environmental consequences"[21]. This decision did not come without opposition as environmental groups worry that the free pass will spark an increase in the number of bird deaths rather than encourage efforts to develop a safer wind energy farms.
  • State of the Art
A number of prevention methods have been suggested to lessen the impact of wind turbines on avian and bat populations. Some of the techniques include painting turbine blades with black or UV paint, tracking flocks with radar, manually shutting down turbines when flocks approach, and building turbines around common flight paths. Research into these prevention techniques is in its early stages as researchers attempt to identify both why birds are colliding with the turbines, and how to reduce the rate of occurrence.

Health ConcernsEdit

Wind Turbine SyndromeEdit

It has been argued that wind turbines can have an impact on human health and quality of life. "Wind Turbine Syndrome" was first brought up as an issue by Dr. Nina Pierpont, an anti-wind energy activist. In her book self-published in 2009, she attributes symptoms including sleep deprivation, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, and vertigo to the infrasound and low-frequency noise generated by wind turbines[22]. Since Dr. Pierpont published her research, farmers and townspeople from across the world have come forward claiming that do indeed suffer from these symptoms. [23][24]

Proponents of wind energy such as the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the US Department of Energy have countered these claims by citing studies that correlate these symptoms to annoyance and stress rather than physical health impacts. Critics also note that Pierpont did not use a valid sample size, she did not see her subjects in person, her work was not properly peer reviewed, and there were no recorded complaints prior to her study[25]. This implies that until further research is done into the phenomenon, "Wind Turbine Syndrome" cannot be used as the sole reason to impede wind farm construction. [26]

Political FactorsEdit

United StatesEdit

Wind power is a new industry in the United States, so its public exposure has been limited. With increased interest in renewable energy, news outlets are featuring more stories about wind energy. Despite this increased media attention, a study conducted by researchers Klick and Smith (2010) polled 600 people about wind energy and found that public opinion is weak[27].

Wind power was part of the renewable energy platforms of the two major parties during the U.S. Presidential Elections in 2008 and 2012. The Democrats and the Republicans have recognized the potential of wind power as a form of clean energy, and in their 2008 election platforms, proposed government incentives and funding to increase renewable energies[28][29] Four years later, in 2012, the Democrats continued to maintain their ambitious agenda on renewable energies, including wind power, while Republicans, no longer incumbents, have reduced their renewable energy statement to a few sentences, which encourages continued renewable energy development, but in the market without taxpayer funding. [30][31] Since renewable energy is a growing political issue, wind power will continue to be featured in national energy debates. [32][30].

European UnionEdit

The 20-20-20 PackageEdit

In 2007, the European Union passed a climate and energy package in order to reduce carbon emissions throughout the EU. The package has three targets to be met by 2020, which are referred to as the '20-20-20' targets. They include a 20 percent reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels, a 20 percent of EU energy derived from renewable resources, and a 20 increase in EU energy efficiency [33]. The goal of this package is to promote development of renewable resources throughout Europe to ensure global average temperature increases do not exceed 2°C[34]. Wind energy will be a major source of renewable energy in Europe, with the European Wind Energy Association desiring for up to 35 percent of the EU's electricity demand to be supplied by wind, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by approximately 600 million tonnes[35]. Wind energy has strong public support as well, with up to 71% of EU population in favor of wind energy according to a 2007 report by the European Commission[36].

While the EU member states support the goals of the 20-20-20 packages, some disagree on how to implement it. The primary criticism involves the economics of renewable energy. Robert Bryce, a writer on energy policy at the Manhattan Institute and a strong critic of US energy policy, claims that this environmental package significantly increases costs with little extra benefit [37]. While renewable energy sources are approaching the cost per megawatt of fossil fuel sources, their variable energy production rates means that these non-renewable energy sources must be maintained. This requires subsidies to maintain idle reactors in the event renewable energy production is sub-optimal [38].

Eastern European countries, such as Poland, claim that its national targets set previously would unfairly disrupt their economy. Rather than relying on natural gas as in Western European countries, Eastern Europe primarily relies on coal, which has historically been more available [39]. Poland, for example, produces up to 94% of their energy from coal [40]. In 2010, the former Polish Environmental Minister, Adrezj Kraszewski, criticized the switch to renewable energy as a way to reduce carbon emissions. He stated that the increased cost of energy would hurt Europe's ability to compete in a global economy. Furthermore, reducing coal consumption would require forming trade negotiations with local natural gas suppliers such as Russia to build a reserve capacity, reducing the energy independence of these member states [41]. Despite concerns over the economic impact, the Polish public supports the switch to renewable energy, with 59% stating that they want prime minister Donald Tusk to support efforts to cut emissions by 40% by 2030 [40]


Following recent events such as the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Germany has pushed to shift a large portion of their energy infrastructure to renewables, referred to as the Energiewende [38]. Approximately 30% of all energy in Germany comes from renewable energy sources, with hopes to push this to 45% by 2035 [42]. Germany has established their own targets beyond that set by the 20-20-20 package, with goals including a 95% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels, a primary energy supply that is 60% renewable, and energy efficiency increases of 2% annually[38]. While the majority of energy still comes from coal and nuclear, a strong desire to reduce carbon emissions and fear of environmental disasters has quickly pushed Germany towards renewable sources.

As of 2011, Germany contributed about 29,000 MW of energy from wind alone, about a quarter of all wind energy in Europe. Ten percent of Germany's domestic production is from wind energy, which involves a mixture of both land-based and off-shore wind farms [43]. These large shares of wind energy has been spurred through aggressive subsidies, totaling 22 billion euros in 2015. This enthusiasm has been matched by the private sector, with large power companies such as EON[44] and Siemens[38] spinning off their fossil-fuel based sectors to focus on a green energy future. As this push towards renewable energy coincides with a push to shut down all nuclear power plants by 2022, there have been concerns over the feasibility of the Energiewende[45]. As renewable energy sources vary in levels of production, there will be times when renewable energy production is insufficient to meet demand. A report published by Bundesnetzagentur, the German Federal Network Agency, stated blackouts may occur if Germany does not supply the proper reserve capacity[45]. This has been offset through trade agreements with countries such as Austria, though this reduces Germany's energy independence.


Wikipedia Article on NIMBYism

National opinion towards wind energy have been positive as the United States attempts to reduce carbon emissions through the increasing use of alternative, cleaner sources. A survey conducted by the American Wind Energy Association in March 2010 noted that 89% of American voters believed the nation should increase usage of wind energy. Additionally, 77% supported the implementation of a national Renewal Energy Standard (RES) that would mandate the amount of energy obtained through renewable sources.[46]

Despite the overwhelming support for the United States to switch to more renewable energy, the installment of wind energy technology across the nation continues to face strong opposition by people living near proposed sites. Local opposition towards wind energy has been labeled as NIMBY ("not in my backyard"). "Nimbies" refers people who oppose an issue due the proximity of this issue to them, or who support a cause (e.g. wind energy), but do not want it to require any sacrifices on their part, much like a free rider.

For wind energy, these sacrifices may include the aforementioned issues in addition to other ones pertaining only to citizens living in the near vicinity to proposed wind turbines. Consistent with risk perception, studies have supported that persons living close to the site of a proposed wind farm particularly oppose wind farms due to a linear relationship between distance and risk perception. Similarly, people further away from an existing wind farm oppose further wind development due a lack of local experience to alleviate risk as seen in the below figure. [47]

Adapted from Figure 1 in van der Horst. 2007: NIMBY or not? Exploring the relevance of location and the politics of voiced opinions in renewable energy siting controversies. based on data from Warren et al. 2005: Green on green: public perceptions of wind power in Scotland and Ireland

Due to the disputed medical legitimacy of Wind Turbine Syndrome, it has been suggested that WTS was conceived by Nimbies to support their opposition to wind power development near their homes.

Cases Involving Wind EnergyEdit

Cape WindEdit

Cape Wind, an approved offshore wind project located near Cape Cod, was initially proposed in 2001 by Jim Gordon and his company Cape Wind Associates, the project would entail the installation of 130 wind turbines in a shallow, high-wind region of the Nantucket Sound known as Horseshoe Shoal. The company claims that the wind farm would be capable of supplying 75% of the electricity necessary for the Cape and the Islands.

Following its proposal, the Alliance to Protect the Nantucket Sound was founded. Labeled as Nimbies by opposition, this group believes that the Cape Wind project has the right idea, but the wrong location. They believe that Cape Wind would be detrimental to wildlife, the economy, public safety and the scenery. Two computer generated simulations of what the proposed wind farm would look like from shore show how opposing groups can use images to affect human perceptions.[48][49] Although the two images are from locations the same distance away from where Cape Wind would be, it is obvious that the subtle differences are meant to persuade the viewer one way or the other. In addition to images, both groups support their arguments with what they claim are facts. These facts are then labeled as myths by the opposing side. Some of the most heavily debated issues are the price of the electricity, the effect on marine life and the visibility of the turbines on the horizon.

Supporters of the farm state that most opposition is motivated to real-estate value. They claim that the opponents are not truly concerned about wildlife or health, but instead worried about the wind turbines hurting the property value of their estates. A notable example is Robert Kennedy, Jr., who owns real-estate near the proposed farm. Kennedy stated his support for wind power in general but opposition to the specific project. [50]

Even with this opposition, an Opinion Research Corporation survey in 2007 found that 84% of Massachusetts residents supported the project, with 58% on the Cape supporting as well. [51]

European Offshore Wind Deployment CentreEdit

Initially proposed in 2003, the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre was planned to be 2 kilometers off the coast of Balmede in Aberdeen Bay to test the performance of new wind turbine designs to be used in future wind projects in Scotland. [52] A planning application was submitted in August 2011, with support from two companies, Vattenfall and Technip. [53]

However, this land resided by the private Menie Estate, Balmedie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, which was purchased by Donald Trump in 2006 to be the site of a premier flagship links-style golf course as a part of a larger 1.6 billion dollar "resort featuring a second golf course, a hotel, luxury holiday homes and a residential village." [54] Trump consistently impeded the development of the Centre, because he was concerned that the turbines would ruin the view and value of his new estate. In September 2011 Trump filed an objection to the planning application, and halted the construction of his new resort. [55] Alongside his legal disputes, he would frequently publicize wind energy critics in regards to avian mortality and health issues. [56]

Trump was only able to delay the process and was unable to fully stop the Centre. In March 2013, Scotland finally approved the development test area 2 kilometers off the coast of Balmeded in Aberdeen Bay. In a last ditch effort, Trump launched a legal challenge to Scotland's approval of the wind farm, [57] but it was rejected in February 2014, leading to Trump dropping his plans in Aberdeen. [58]

Another participant that initially opposed the wind farm was the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). They were concerned about wildlife on the coast, and expressed concerns in 2006. [59] However, they dropped their opposition in 2012 with a decreased in the number of planned turbines and layout redesign. [60]


In 2011, France proposed to build an offshore wind farm about six miles off the coast of Courseulles-sur-Mer, the landing site for the Canadian infantry on the shores of Normandy. The proposed wind farm has 75 turbines, and is estimated to produce about 450 MW. Construction was scheduled to begin in 2015[61]. Following the announcement, the plan was attacked by anti-wind groups such as the European Platform Against Windfarms, who organized a petition against this project. The organization argues that the beaches are a historical site, and that the beaches should not be changed without consulting veterans of the war [62]. They are supported by John Phipps of D-Day Revisited, a group which organizes tours of Normandy for British Veterans, who states that the beaches of Normandy wouldn't be quite the same with wind farms[62]. However, leaders of other groups, such as George Batts, national secretary of the Normandy Veteran's Association, support the project as long as the turbines are not on the beach itself[63]. While the area of the wind farm has been reduced, the wind farm will not be moved, as this could interupt fishing or other maritime activities[61]. As of December 2014, construction of the wind farm is still planned to begin in 2015[64].


Several lessens can be learned from the social interface of the wind technology.

  • Technological path dependence. Technologies can progress and develop in one direction and that direction or path becomes the focus of future development, and alternatives struggle for relevance.
  • Feasibility of different technologies in different parts of the world. Not all technologies are suitable everywhere. Economic, cultural and geographical factors affect the implementation of technology. For example, wind turbines are economically feasible in windy places while windcatchers are only feasible in extremely low humidity climates.
  • NIMBY. People may support an idea in general, but when its drawbacks directly affect them they oppose it. Most people make decisions based on incentives, prioritizing personal benefits over public benefits. Technologies that offer personal incentives thrive, even if they are detrimental to the environment. We see this all around the world as people or businesses make decision based on maximizing profits and ignoring the environmental effects. To be successful in saving the environment we must develop technologies that provide personal incentives as well as environmental benefits.


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  61. a b http://www.west-normandy-marine-energy.fr/en/bottom-mounted-offshore-wind-turbines---introduction-gc12.html
  62. a b http://www.epaw.org/echoes.php?lang=en&article=n116
  63. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/10101048/D-Day-anniversary-offshore-wind-farms-at-Normandy-will-desecrate-site.html
  64. http://cleantechies.com/2014/12/06/alstom-inaugurates-frances-first-offshore-wind-turbine-production-facilities/