Energy production causes more pollution than any other industry in the country. Currently, nearly all of the electricity produced in the United States is generated by fossil fuel plants, nuclear plants, and hydroelectric plants. The build-up in the atmosphere of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels now threatens far-reaching climate change. In addition to global warming, conventional methods of electricity generation release the gases responsible for acid rain, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. In order to prevent further degradation of our environment and successfully transition to a sustainable society, we must change our current patterns of production and consumption. Conservation and switching to renewable sources of energy, such as wind power, are crucial steps to achieving this goal of sustainability. Wind power alone has the potential to meet 20 percent or more of the world's electricity needs within the next four to five years, (Johansson, 157). Wind power, however, is still a developing technology, and is therefore far from reaching its full potential.
How Wind Machines Work:
Wind is the product of sunlight heating the surface of the Earth unevenly. Warmer air rises and cooler air tumbles in to replace it, causing everything from gentle breezes to raging tornadoes. Whatever the amount of power in the wind, it can be harnessed by a machine called a wind turbine. The most common type of wind turbine has a horizontal axis, with two or more aerodynamic blades mounted on the horizontal shaft, (AccessScience, "Types of Wind Machines"). As the wind passes over a turbine's blade, pressure forms on the downwind side, thrusting it upward like a propeller. In these machines, the blades are designed to travel at several times the wind speed, allowing for a high efficiency, (AccessScience, "Types of Wind Machines"). A gearbox behind the blades, called the nacelle, is where the power of motion turns gears to generate electricity.
Wind energy can be stored by battery, pumped-hydro equipment, and other devices. Wind turbines are also often connected to a utility, which provides back-up electricity when needed.
The location of wind turbines is as important to the generation of electricity as the design. Wind turbines function best in locations where average wind speeds are high and constant. In the US, the best locations for wind turbines or wind farms (large groups of turbines set up in rows at especially windy spots that generate megawatts of electricity) are along certain mountain passes and ridges in California and Hawaii, as well as the flat plain regions of the Midwest, (AccessScience, "Energy in the Wind").
The Pros and Cons of Wind Power:
Wind is an environmentally friendly source of energy that avoids the bad aspects of fossil fuels and nuclear power. In addition to cutting down pollution, wind turbines do not leave behind dangerous byproducts to dispose of like...