What Is It With Us And Wind?

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They say a huge milestone in a new relationship is not the first kiss, but indeed the first time one of the two passes wind! Now, this writer happens to agree with that, but before certain people get all self-defensive and indignant on me, rest assured that I am not here to pass advice on relationships, or indeed wind of the flatulent variety. No, the wind I wish to speak of of course is of the meteorological variety. It’s the same wind that was howling outside my window last night as Storm Fionn passed through, just as Storms Aileen, Ophelia, Brian, Caroline, Dylan and Eleanor did before it. But as I sat there and listened to the haunting howling, I began to wonder, why do I not have a wind turbine to harness this energy? In fact, I wonder, why are we all not rejoicing and benefitting from this wind?

So, what is wind power? Wind Power or wind energy is the process of which wind is used to generate electricity by converting the kinetic energy in the wind through the wind turbines. Since the beginning of 5000 B.C., wind power has been able to facilitate progress and growth through the constant innovations in technology. This introduction to wind power helped out people along the Nile River to propel the boats down the river.

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Today, wind power has done more than help sail ships, it has brought clean energy into hundreds of millions of homes around the world. Onshore and Offshore wind farms have been advantageous for the world because it’s helped save over 637 millions tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. By 2020, the United Nations aims to prevent 1.5 billion tons of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere through Wind Power.

Ireland has the best wind resource in Europe. Though our winds aren’t always strong, they are diverse and frequent – which means we can create a regular source of electricity by maximising the ways and places in which we capture and use wind energy.

·       Ireland is windiest during the winter, and on average it’s windier during the day than the night.

·       Wind turbines are built where they’ll face prevailing winds, which have an average speed of over six metres per second.

·       Most Irish winds come from a south westerly direction.

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Since 2002, the installed wind generation capacity in Ireland has increased from 145 MW to 2,878 MW at the end of 2017. Driven by EU renewable energy targets, predominately being met by wind generation, which accounted for 22% of electricity produced last year. In terms of penetration levels, this puts Ireland’s wind capacity in contention for 2nd place globally.  Looking at these numbers, the growth of wind energy appears to have been a great success. However, behind the scenes there is a slightly different story. While 72% of the public surveyed by RTE as part of Science Week 2017 are in favour, the remaining 28% have a rather negative opinion.

This has led to the foundation of almost 50 lobbying groups nationwide, unified through Wind Aware Ireland. In 2014, submissions from 7,497 individuals and organisations were received in response to the public consultation on the revision of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines in relation to noise, setbacks and shadow flicker. This is really quite a staggering number, when you consider that only 137 submissions were received during the public consultation on Universal Health Insurance.


Let’s look at some of the most common objections.

1)    Wind Turbines are an ugly eye sore

Concern – Probably the most common complaint, “I do not want these things destroying my scenic view”, usually referred to as “not in my backyard” opposition. This is often backed by the argument that property values will fall.

Unfortunately, existing research and commentary on this issue is widely varied and inconclusive. Personally, I get excited by wind farms but to others the sight may appear an eyesore when compared to flowing hills. However, if these people were to personally benefit from the development, would their perception change? Furthermore, might this actually increase the value of properties as part of a sustainable community?


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2)    Wind Turbines destroy local ecology

Concern – On-shore wind farms require the destruction of “untouched” rural landscapes. This not only poses a threat to birds and bats from the turbine blades but the construction also requires the clearing of foliage and nesting habitat.

However, according to a study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the threat posed by wind turbines to birds is considerably less than other man-made structures. In the UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) says it supports wind power – not because wind farms pose a lower risk to birds than other energy sources – but because in its view climate change poses the “single greatest long-term threat” to bird species. In any case, this troubling issue inspired companies like Tunisian startup Tyler Wind, to develop the Hummingbird turbine that occupies less space and slower speed. This turbine will be an effective resolution to help save birds and continue the innovation for better wind power technology.


3)    Wind turbines are damaging to public health

Concern – Infrasound, a sub-audible wave that may be harmful to public health. According to a paper published by the Washington University School of Medicine, this can cause “disequilibrium (like seasickness, but not induced by movement), tinnitus, a sensation of fullness in the ear and worst of all, disturb sleep”. One story you may have heard is the Irish couple, Michael and Dorothy Keane, who under doctors’ orders, reportedly abandoned their home because of these stresses.

One hypothesis suggests that is may be due to what is known as the nocebo effect. Similar to the placebo effect, the negative opinion formed in the public’s mind results in the development of mental stresses/annoyance associated with wind turbines. A paper from the Sydney School of Public Health concluded that given complaints of such ailments did not emerge until after the foundation of opposition groups in 2009 that these syndromes where mostly likely “communicated diseases”.


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4) Wind energy is unpredictable, intermittent, and must be “backed up” by conventional generation.

Concern - When the winds don’t blow, turbines don’t spin. That may have been true-ish a decade ago but much less now. To begin with, depending on location, the bulk of wind turbines produce electricity about 80% of the time, though the amount is determined by the speed of the wind. However, because newer wind turbines are mounted more than 200 feet above the ground where air currents are far more active, they spin more often at a faster rate and produce more electricity. Since 2013, some turbines have been operating at 97.6% availability and reaching capacity factors over 50%. Wind farms are modular and have low maintenance requirements. On a 100 MW wind farm, when one 2 MW turbine needs servicing it can be shut down without affecting the other 49 turbines. Those 49 keep cranking out electricity. If anything, wind power is beginning to back up fossil fuel generators during peak demand.

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So, what about the future? Renewable sources will continue to be an essential component to transition societies into a cleaner, greener, and pollution-free environment for all. Wind power technology continues to innovate and seek effective ways to gather energy and distribute it efficiently to the public.

Cities will continue to grow, people will continue to come, and renewable energy will continue to be necessary to manage our energy efficiently and effectively. With the development of Smart Cities, the power of Wind Farms and other renewable energy sources will be incorporated into the next city government projects to transform cities into cleaner, more efficient cities.

At Glas Éireann Solutions, we are committed to reducing commercial, agricultural and industrial energy usage, energy overheads, carbon footprint as well as exposure to future energy price increase risk. One of the methods we use to do this is small wind. To find out more on how we can help your business, why not contact us here.

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