Compared to other forms of energy generation, wind power suffers from several challenges and disadvantages. Wind farms must often be constructed in remote areas, requiring long-distance transmission lines to transport power, and wind power is sometimes not yet cost-competitive with fossil fuels. Despite these drawbacks, however, wind power has seen dramatic growth in 2012 and prior years because wind turbines offer so many compensating advantages. Chief among these is that wind turbines do not rely on fossil fuels.
Earth’s winds are ultimately the result of uneven solar heating, so wind power is actually a form of solar energy. That’s why wind power is inexhaustible. Unlike fossil fuels, which are limited and will someday be used up, the wind will keep on blowing as long as the sun continues to shine. Moreover, peak times for wind energy tend to coincide with peak electricity demand. Consumers need the most electricity when the weather is cold and windy, and that’s exactly when the wind is often at its strongest.
Burning fossil fuels generates pollution, both in the form of chemicals like sulfur and nitrogen oxides and greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Wind power, by contrast, is virtually pollution-free. Constructing the turbine requires some initial investment of energy that may indirectly create pollution if that energy is generated from fossil fuels, but once the turbine is built and running, it neither generates greenhouse gas nor other pollutants.
Currently wind power is cheaper than most other forms of renewable energy, which makes it easier for wind turbines to compete with fossil fuel-based technologies. Depending on project financing and location, the cost of generating electricity from wind using wind turbines ranges from 4 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour — the amount of energy equivalent to 1 kilowatt of power generated for one hour. Solar panels on homes and other similar installations typically costs from 12 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour by comparison.
Countries like the United States must import much of their fossil fuels, and this may leave them at the mercy of political instability in the countries or regions that supply them with fuel. Wind turbines can help avoid this problem by enabling a country to become independent of foreign suppliers since wind is a domestically available resource. Self-sufficiency in energy makes countries less vulnerable to the threat posed by political turmoil in regions like the Middle East.