Wind Power

Photograph of Wind Turbines

Wind power has become one of the most popular renewable energy sources in the UK as it is very cost effective.

It makes up around 12% of the energy needs of the UK and in 2016 produced more energy than coal for the first time.

The UK is now the 6th largest producer of wind power and has over 7,837 turbines.

Many of the new wind farms in the UK have been built offshore such as the Walney Wind farm in Cumbria.

Advantages of wind farms

  • Reduced carbon emissions: In recent years, much of the UK energy has come from the burning of fossil fuels. As the amount of reliance on wind farms increases there will be much less need to burn coal, oil and natural gas. This will be positive for the atmosphere as carbon emissions will be reduced and will therefore lead to a reduction on the impact on the greenhouse effect.
  • Sustainable energy: Modern wind turbines are some of the most technologically advanced examples of technology around the world. They are very reliable and powerful machines that are very efficient at generating electricity and the turbines will have a lifespan of between 20 and 25 years. The location of the UK lends itself to wind energy more than any other European country.
  • Less dependence onfossil fuels: Over the last 30 years the UK has become increasingly dependent on importing fossil fuels into the UK. The amount of oil from local sources (the North Sea) is not enough to meet the growing UK energy demands and production of coal and natural gas has been on the decrease. If the UK can depend on local energy sources in the future this will help with the trade imbalance and also energy security issues.
  • Value for money: Although wind power is often seen as being more expensive than the traditional methods of generating energy (around 3p a unit of electricity more or £18 extra per year), increasing oil prices have largely closed this shortfall. In addition, the cost of setting up ‘green energy’ projects and building wind farms has been reducing in recent years with some reports estimating that electricity production costs are down by a third.

Disadvantages of wind farms

  • Visual pollution: Some people find wind farms to be an eyesore and claim that these are a blot on the landscape and will have an impact on tourism. As a response, many of the modern wind farms have been built many miles out to sea.
  • High set up costs: Wind farm projects like Walney in Cumbria are very expensive to set up. Walney 1 cost over £1 billion to set up. However, the wind farm did move to full production very quickly. It will take around 20 years for the investment to break even.
  • The need for a backup: One of the most important (and worrying) issues about wind farms is that there are days when the wind speed is either too low and does not turn the sails of the turbines round or the wind speed is too high and the sails have to be secured for safety (over 26 knot winds). This means that there will be times when no energy is produced and an alternative source of energy will need to be brought online. Wind energy in the UK is more reliable in the winter daytime (44%) whilst it is weakest in the summer nights (13%).
  • Wildlife issues: Initially, environmental organisations raised concerns that the increase in wind farms might have an impact on the animals who live both onshore and in the sea. They felt that the electrical and magnetic currents that were created by electricity production could impact animal navigation systems and kill animals. However there has been relatively little evidence to support these claims.