People have been harnessing the power of the wind for thousands of years, such as powering sailing ships and turning the blades of a windmill to name just two. In fact, wind power has played a tremendous part in the survival and expansion of the human race over the millennia. Wind powered boats enabled early man to discover new lands and trade with other civilisations, whilst windmills powered the machinery that was used to grind grain for bread production and for powering other machinery through the turning crankshaft. Windmills also were used to great effect in places such as the American West to power water pumps which obtained water from underneath the dry, arid ground for drinking and crop irrigation.
Although many recreational sailors still rely on the wind to move their little vessels through the water, the introduction of the combustion engine and electricity has meant that wind power is not as vital as it once was. However this is beginning to change with the invention of the wind turbine which converts wind energy into electricity by rotating the blades of the turbine. This electricity can then be used to power the machinery and equipment of the modern age, reducing the requirement to obtain electricity from a power station which burns fossil fuels that give off pollutants and gases which harm the environment.
Wind power is a renewable source of energy as it does not have a finite life like other types of fuel such as coal and oil have (there is only a limited amount of coal and oil remaining in the earth, whereas the wind will blow as long as the earth exists).
Disadvantages of wind power as a source of energy
Despite wind power being a clean and unlimited source of power, there are a number of drawbacks and disadvantages associated with its use.
For starters, wind power is similar to solar power in that it is erratic, or more precisely, it is dependent upon the changeable and unpredictable weather. If the wind doesn't blow, the turbines don't spin and no electricity is produced.
The other most significant disadvantage of wind power as an energy source is that it requires a lot of turbines to be constructed to generate the same amount of power as one fossil fuel burning power station can produce. Not only will constructing this many wind turbines be extremely expensive, but will require a large area for them to be built over. This will be a problem in terms of finding the space upon which to build them, especially for a relatively small landmass like the United Kingdom, but will also create outrage amongst numerous members of the public who protest that the large turbines spoil the natural beauty of the countryside. Wind turbines built on land are built on top of the hills and on exposed, open ground where it is windiest, which unfortunately means that they can be seen for miles around. They can also be noisy as the blades spin around which also attracts protest and complaints from nearby residents. Even wind turbines which are built offshore out to sea can spoil the view and be a danger to shipping in the water.
Wind turbines will often be sited quite a distance away from where the electricity they produce is connected to the Grid, which means that there is a requirement for long cables. The length of these cables means that not only is there a tremendous length of cable to inspect if a fault develops, but large energy losses can also be present as the electricity has to travel a long way through them.