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Wind
Credit: George Steinmetz

Wind

Call to action:

Accelerate the share of wind in the global energy supply to become a principal source of electricity.

To reduce greenhouse gases and end the climate crisis, we need to accelerate the adoption of wind energy as part of a strategy to electrify everything. Global wind capacity has grown exponentially in recent years, reaching 743 gigawatts in 2020. Wind energy is competitive with other energy sources, costing around half the price of coal power. New wind turbines are safer for wildlife and can serve as habitat for sea life. Advances include technologies that dampen turbine noise and batteries that can store turbines’ electrical charge more efficiently. To harness wind’s full potential, we must continue to foster further technological advancements, grow public support for wind projects big and small, install more wind farms, and reduce energy use overall.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn about the benefits of wind energy and the obstacles it has faced. The use of wind as a source of energy has ancient roots. Although the use of wind energy as a source of electricity was prompted by the oil shortages of the 1970s, it has faced challenges, including high installation costs, intermittency, lack of battery storage technology, conflicts with wildlife, and opposition from oil companies and some local communities (called NIMBYism). Despite these hurdles, wind is now one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world. Some of the key benefits of wind energy and reasons for its growth include:

  • Wind is cost effective. Wind energy is now one of the cheapest sources of electricity. In 2020 alone, the cost of onshore wind decreased globally by 13 percent and offshore wind by 9 percent. This price drop is due to a number of factors, including decreases in wind hardware prices, increases in turbine generating power, and government subsidies.
  • Wind turbine generating capacity has increased exponentially. The average capacity of newly installed wind turbines has increased by around 284 percent since the late 1990s, largely due to new technologies and improved turbine designs, such as turbines inspired by insect wings. Increased efficiency has been boosted by the recent proliferation of offshore wind farms that can deploy giant turbines. For instance, the interconnection of offshore wind farms in Denmark is poised to create energy islands.
  • Wind creates local jobs. A recent Global Wind Energy Council report noted that Brazil, India, Mexico, the Philippines, and South Africa together could add 2.23 million jobs over a twenty-five-year lifetime of wind projects. Here is a wind farm in the UK that trains and employs local students. Here is a list of offshore wind projects in Asia that are creating jobs. While most wind turbines are manufactured in Europe, there has been progress in creating domestic wind supply chains that support local jobs.
  • Wind energy can contribute to efficient land use when sited carefully. Wind turbines themselves take up minimal space. This allows other uses of the land or water to take place alongside wind-energy production, such as farming or wildlife habitat protection. However, careful project planning and siting must be employed to avoid the habitat fragmentation that may come along with roadbuilding and transmission lines.
  • New technology is resolving old challenges. A novel bladeless wind turbine design will eliminate conflicts with birds while generating nearly soundless wind energy.

Support wind-energy projects in your community or in other communities. For guidance on how to start a wind project in your community, check out this Small Community Wind Handbook; these ten steps for building a wind farm; this article on how to start a local wind farm company; and this article for small businesses on how to build a wind-power farm. Consider installing a micro wind turbine on your property if you live in an area where large turbines may not be an option. Companies such as Halo Energy and Flower Turbines provide such small-scale wind turbines, or you can even try out some DIY wind turbine options. Examples of some notable wind projects around the world with beneficial community impacts include:

  • Nā Pua Makani is a Hawaiian wind-energy project on O’ahu’s North Shore. The project is owned and operated by AES, which has committed millions of dollars in funds to support the North Shore’s community needs.
  • Nojoli Wind Farm in South Africa was constructed by Enel Green Power, which organized a training program for local unemployed youths to obtain a rigging qualification needed to work in the power industry.
  • Hepburn Wind Project in Australia is the country’s first community-owned wind farm. In response to frustration from locals that the government was not doing enough to address climate change, the community built its own wind farm, and the majority of investors are from the local region.
  • The residents on the small island of Tiree in Scotland loved their wind turbine so much that they named it Tilley. The wind turbine is organized under a community trust run by local volunteers.
  • The ExPlace Wind Turbine, located on the shore of Lake Ontario in Toronto, Canada, is co-owned by Windshare and Toronto Hydro under a cooperative model. The community-owned project is the first turbine to be constructed in a major North American city center.
  • The small village of Kwenthluk in western Alaska is constructing four wind turbines that will reduce residents’ electric bills by up to half. The village is partnering with the nonprofit Nuvista Light and Energy Cooperative to build and operate the turbines.
  • The Vader Piet Wind Farm on the Caribbean island of Aruba contributes 15 percent of the island’s total power generation. In addition to preventing more than 152,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, this project serves as a focal point for a local hiking trail.

Reduce your energy consumption. While renewable energy sources such as wind are key to the transition away from fossil fuels, a reduction in energy consumption is critical to hasten that transition. In addition to avoiding greenhouse gas emissions, energy conservation has the benefit of lowering your energy bill while relieving stress on the power grid. Consider these top five steps for reducing your energy consumption at home and these tips for conserving energy at the office.

Switch to a renewable energy provider. If you can choose your energy provider, consider switching to one that supplies electricity generated from renewable energy sources, including wind. This Green Electricity Guide by Greenpeace shows a ranking of such providers in Australia, and Green-e provides a list of renewable energy suppliers in the United States that the organization has certified. Some examples of renewable energy providers in other countries include GlowPower (Ireland), Mint Energie (France), and Naturstrom (Germany).

Join and/or support advocacy groups and organizations that promote wind energy. Community groups can serve as a driving force to sway governments when it comes to policies that promote wind energy (see Governance below). When governments refuse to act, local groups can act on their own. Seek out specific advocacy groups—big and small—that promote wind energy and that have membership opportunities for individuals (see Key Players below).

Speak up about why reliance on wind energy needs to increase. One bottleneck for wind energy is NIMBYism. This phenomenon occurs when people oppose wind-energy projects in their local communities, often out of fear of turbine noise and visual pollution. These concerns can be mitigated (see Groups: Scientists), and you can act as a voice in your community by turning NIMBYism into PIMBYism (Please in My Backyard). You can speak up in a variety of ways:

  • Write an op-ed supporting wind-energy projects. Examples include this op-ed in The Washington Post and this op-ed in The Seattle Times.
  • Join a social media site where you can share your thoughts on wind and learn from others with similar interests. For instance, the Global Wind Energy Council’s Women in Wind Global Leadership Program promotes the careers of women in the wind industry. The organization is active on Twitter and you can use the hashtag #WomeninWind to share your story.
  • Submit public comments in regulatory actions concerning wind-power projects. Wind projects are often subject to review by government agencies and may require public notice and comment. Here is one such call for public comments from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. And here is another example of public consultation from the UK. And you can stay abreast of new comment periods in the U.S. by checking the Federal Register.
  • Influence and lobby elected officials to become pro-wind. Wind energy became front and center in a recent election season in France, and governor races in the U.S. will shape how federal money is spent on renewable energy projects. You can do your part not just by voting for pro-wind politicians, but also by lobbying your representatives into supporting policies that will shape the future of wind energy.

Groups

State and Local Government Officials

Collaborate with energy companies and others to understand how wind power can best be scaled. Concerns around relying on wind energy often center on uncertainty about wind patterns. These concerns can be mitigated in part by improved planning and coordination between governments and utility companies.

  • One study found that wind-power output could be stabilized if wind generators were configured and connected at a regional level, such as along the U.S. East Coast through a hypothesized Atlantic Transmission Grid.
  • To establish a local supply chain for wind projects, the government of Bremen, Germany, upgraded the port of Bremerhaven to support offshore wind projects and then encouraged energy companies to develop wind industry logistics and equipment centers in the area.
  • The city of Denver, Colorado, developed an Energy Future Collaboration with Xcel Energy to provide a strategy and framework for implementing clean energy objectives in the area.
  • Virginia and the Danish Ministry of Climate Energy and Utilities signed a memorandum of understanding that will provide a framework for how Denmark can share its expert understanding of offshore wind with Virginia.
  • The mayor of Barranquilla, Columbia, plans to enter an agreement with the Danish offshore wind investor and developer Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners to build the first offshore wind project in Latin America.
  • Belgium and the UK have signed a cooperation agreement to deepen their relationship on renewable energy priorities, one of which is offshore wind.

Farmers and Ranchers

Consider constructing a wind-energy project on your land. Some of the best land to construct wind projects on are rural farms and ranches, where there are fewer obstacles that will disturb air flow. However, check resources such as the Global Wind Atlas and Windcatcher to see if air patterns in your area are viable for wind projects. A wind turbine occupies less than half an acre of land, and farmers can plant crops and raise livestock right up to the turbine’s base. Wind turbines can coexist with farm operations, resulting in a range of benefits:

  • Wind provides an additional revenue stream to farmers and ranchers. In addition to selling excess energy produced from turbines back into the grid, landowners can make money via land-lease payments that can range from around $3,000 to $7,000 per turbine per year in the U.S. In Ireland, one company offered landowners a minimum of €18,000 per turbine per year.
  • Wind turbines can be a source of shade for livestock on hot days. Cattle have been reported to line up under the shade of turbines during hot weather, creating what has been called a bovine sundial.
  • Wind turbines can generate breezes that aid certain crops. One study found that wind turbines can create a microclimate beneath their blades that helps crops such as corn and soybean fend off fungal infections and damaging frost events. And by mixing the air, turbines can facilitate greater carbon dioxide uptake from the plants below.
  • Some wildlife that damage crops may avoid the area around turbines. This study found that herbivorous mammals such as roe deer and the European hare avoid wind farm interiors and proximity to turbines. Another study in Portugal found that wolves showed some avoidance of wind farms during the construction phase.

Electricity Providers

Integrate wind-energy sources into your offerings. In many jurisdictions, renewable energy providers are leading the pack by providing customers with options to source their electricity from wind. Utilities can do their part by allowing customers to feed excess wind power back into the grid, such as through net metering. Electricity providers must also directly invest in renewable energy sources that are tied to wind. For instance:

  • Constellation Energy has set a goal to eliminate all its greenhouse gas emissions via a mix of hydro, wind, and solar sources. The company has launched a sustainability partnership with Microsoft to match customers’ power demand with local carbon-free energy sources around the clock.
  • Iberdrola announced that the utility will invest up to €4 billion in the French renewables sector through onshore and offshore wind and solar projects.
  • Indiana Michigan Power submitted a plan with the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission that provides for the addition of more than 2,000 megawatts of wind and solar energy generation by 2028.
  • MidAmerican Energy has proposed an investment that will add enough wind and solar generation to meet all of Iowa’s power needs.
  • Tata Power and RWE Renewables GmbH have entered into a joint partnership to explore offshore wind opportunities in India.

Scientists

Produce innovative technologies that increase wind as a major source of renewable energy. Some areas of research and development include:

  • Ensuring the safety of birds around wind turbines. Improvements in turbine design and siting can help reduce the risk of bird collisions. Initiatives such as the American Bird Society’s Bird-Smart Wind Energy Program help by weighing in on these issues.
  • Improving the generating capacity of wind turbines, particularly offshore. Floating turbines represent the next generation of offshore wind projects that can better access winds in deeper waters. Airborne wind-energy systems may aid in reaching strong winds present at high altitudes. Developments in blade design can also help capture even more wind, such as the Sweep Twist Adaptive Rotor created by Sandia National Laboratories.
  • Increasing the service life of turbines and ensure that their parts can be reused. Wind turbines have a typical life span of twenty years, but a recent report shows that the useful life of modern wind turbines can range from twenty-five to forty years. Paired with this come developments that allow turbine parts to be recycled. The Danish city of Aalborg has even put old blades to use by turning them into bike shelters for city cyclists.
  • Research into the potential use of offshore wind turbines as habitat for sea life. Emerging evidence shows that these structures can be beneficial in serving as artificial reefs. For instance, a pilot wind project off the coast of Virginia has been observed as a haven for marine life.
  • Improving battery power and storage to counteract wind power’s intermittency problem. One of the main dilemmas associated with wind turbines is that they only produce energy when the wind is blowing, called intermittency. However, developments in long-duration battery storage can help fill the gaps (see Energy Storage Nexus).
  • Improving noise mitigation technologies for turbines. Wind turbines emit a characteristic noise that is a frequent reason for community opposition to wind farms and that can disrupt marine mammals. Many noise mitigation technologies are being studied to address this issue, but more is needed. For example, a turbine coating inspired by owls may reduce noise, but the coating needs more testing and a patent to implement.

Companies

Partner with cooperatives and other businesses to support a wind project. Many wind projects are proving to be successful in part because they are comprised of partnerships that allow the financial and physical risks to be shared among individuals, businesses, and corporations.

  • Co-op Power provides resources on how to start a renewable energy cooperative based on wind in the U.S. Also check out this guide for starting a renewable energy co-op in Canada. Here is a description of the renewables cooperative model in Europe, and this resource explains how renewable energy power purchase agreements work.
  • Middelgrunden is an offshore wind farm in Denmark that is indicative of the cooperative model. HOFOR, a Copenhagen energy utility company, owns half of the turbines and the Middelgrunden Offshore Wind Cooperative owns the other half.
  • In another case, Ørsted, a Danish power company, and T&T Group, a Vietnamese cross-industry company, signed a memorandum of understanding to launch a collaboration on offshore wind in Vietnam.

Divest from fossil fuels and instead invest in wind energy. Divestment from fossil fuels has become a $39.88 trillion movement with commitments from major investors, pension plans, and endowments. It can save companies money in a number of ways, including by improving investor confidence and reputation among customers.

  • Companies such as Green Century offer mutual funds that exclude fossil-fuel companies, and platforms such as Positive Energy provide specific wind-power investment opportunities.
  • Companies can consider carbon onset projects as provided by EarthDeeds. Carbon onsetting shifts the focus from carbon neutrality and onto local and meaningful sustainability projects. Check out current wind onset projects here.

Governance

Reduce regulatory barriers to the use of wind energy. In contrast to the subsidies available for wind, an important regulatory barrier to wind projects are complicated siting and permitting requirements. In Europe, the long duration of the grid connection process caused by inefficient administrative procedures is an ongoing impediment. However, some countries have taken steps to improve this issue:

  • Denmark issued a wind-power planning directive that provided detailed guidelines for the establishment of wind-power projects. This directive led in part to wind permitting processes becoming much more streamlined in Denmark than in other European Union countries, taking about eight fewer months to permit.
  • Germany revised its Building Code to provide a special status for wind turbines. Specifically, the special status permits nonurban wind turbines that do not infringe on the public interest to more easily be granted a construction permit.
  • The Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act established a 100 percent renewable energy target for the country by 2050, which will be met through a combination of wind and solar resources. The law also established expedited permitting processes for renewable energy projects.
  • In the U.S., the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement entered into a memorandum of agreement to clarify their roles in order to coordinate and streamline offshore wind permitting.
  • South Korea released an offshore wind-collaboration plan that mapped offshore wind consideration zones and which created a one-stop shop for granting all required permits for offshore wind projects.

Collaborate with Indigenous peoples on wind projects that impact their land. In a recent landmark case, the Supreme Court of Norway found that a wind project illegally encroached on a traditional reindeer herding area used by the Sámi people, invalidating the project’s license. Indigenous peoples should be consulted as key stakeholders in wind projects.

Subsidize and promote wind-energy projects at the governmental level. While wind energy is cost effective, more can be done to help it outcompete energy sources reliant on fossil fuels. Incentives that government officials can promote for wind energy include:

  • Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to wind-energy production. Total fossil-fuel subsidies globally in 2020 totaled $5.9 trillion. These subsidies should be shifted to renewable energy. An example is the production tax credit in the U.S., which reduces a wind producer’s tax liability. In Germany, feed-in tariffs ensure that owners of renewable energy projects (including wind farms) receive an above-market price per kilowatt-hour for power they feed into the grid.
  • Establish government loan-guarantee programs for wind projects. While wind projects ultimately will become cost-effective given wind’s low operational costs, the initial capital cost can deter many potential investors. Government loan-guarantee programs can help lower the risk associated with wind’s high capital costs. For example, in 2020 the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Union agreed to a €50 million financial guarantee program to support renewable energy (including wind).

Design and implement renewable electricity standards that promote the use of wind power. Renewable electricity standards are regulatory mandates that require a specific amount of electricity sold in a jurisdiction to come from renewable sources (such as wind), and this specified amount often increases over time. Some notable examples of renewable energy standards include:

  • Chile implemented a renewable portfolio standard that required 10 percent of electricity to be derived from renewable energy sources by 2024. The Clean Energy Solutions Center partnered with the Renewable Energy Center of Chile to support rural wind-energy projects in the country.
  • China has adopted renewable energy targets that are periodically updated. The target for wind was set at 420 terawatt-hours, which the country exceeded in 2021. China has also set a target of 1200 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2030.
  • Under South Korea’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, wind-power production has gradually increased since the standard was first enacted in 2012, and the country plans on adding 24.9 gigawatts in wind-power capacity by 2034.

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