Wind power is clearly only an alternative to fossil fuels for stationary use. It cannot be used to replace fossil fuels in transportation expect if used to generate electricity for electric vehicles. In 2010, wind accounted for roughly 2.5% of the worldwide electricity capacity, though some countries have achieved much higher adoption rates.
- Denmark 21%
- Portugal 18%
- Spain 16%
- Ireland 14%
- Germany 9%
The advantages of wind are clear from the environmental standpoint. It produces no air pollution and requires that no fuel be burned. Though there were initial reports that birds are greatly affected by turbines, no study has shown that wind turbines produce any more fatalities than do other manmade structures. While it does require energy to build a wind turbine, the energy lost is recuperated after less than a year of operation, making the energy returned on energy invested calculation very favorable.
In terms of cost, the installation of turbines can be expensive but the overall generation of power is only
3.2 pence per kilowatt hour for onshore production. This is highly competitive with traditional sources of energy generation.
The biggest disadvantage to wind is that it is variable and intermittent. It cannot be relied upon for steady power or to meet unexpected spikes in usage. Current solutions to this problem include grid management, alternative power supplies like solar or traditional, and storage systems. Grid management refers to techniques used to transfer power from one location to another as demand changes as well as the ability to being additional power producing units online in the event of a surge in demand.
As a full on alternative, the intermittency of wind makes it challenging. However, studies have shown that it can be used to replace up to 20% of the capacity of any system with jeopardizing constancy of the supply of electricity or the security of the system.Offshore production is also seen as a way to increase the reliability of wind in certain locations. Offshore wind is often more consistent and more powerful than onshore wind. As a result, the systems are more efficient and more reliable. Northern Europe has the largest number of offshore wind farms and produced the most power from them. The major drawbacks to offshore farms are maintenance and the need to run high efficiency transmission wires. Conventional power grids are not efficient enough to carry electricity over large distances.