Wind Energy and the Environment

Wind Energy and the Environment
Wind Energy in the Landscape
Wind turbines are large machines and cannot be hidden in the landscape.
But most parts of the countryside are managed and forever changing.
Human activity has shaped the countryside for thousands of years. Wind
farms can be designed to fit harmoniously into different types of
Opinion polls show that most people support wind energy and would like
to see it developed further. They find wind turbines attractive and
interesting. However, any person’s attitude towards, and understanding of,
clean sustainable energy is likely to influence their opinion.
Photomontage depicting the cumulative effect of two ten-turbine wind farms in the same landscape.
Wind energy schemes range from individual turbines to small clusters of
turbines to large wind farms (comprising of several tens of turbines).
They are unavoidably conspicuous, and it is therefore essential that
projects are carefully sited and sensitively developed. The wind is a diffuse
form of energy, in common with many renewable sources. A typical wind
farm of 20 turbines might extend over an area of 1 square kilometre, but
only 2 % of the land area would be taken out of use, the remainder can be
used for other purposes, such as farming or as natural habitat.
Wind Energy with Heritage
Ireland has a rich and varied archaeological, architectural and cultural
heritage, which shapes the character of our landscape.
Consideration must be given to the nature and extent of archaeological
remains and the impact a wind farm might have on the site.
It is imperative that our heritage is protected from the dangers associated
with conventional fuel generation, notably acid rain and air pollution.
Appropriately developed and sensitively sited wind farms can aid this
protection and live in harmony with heritage sites. One day wind farms will
be a part of our heritage to be proud of.
Energy from Clean, Fresh Air
Each year, environmental pollution and CO2 emissions from the use of
fossil fuels constitute a threat to health, the environment and sustainable
development. Wind turbines cause virtually no emissions during their
operation and very little during their manufacture, installation,
maintenance and removal.
Every Megawatt of wind power installed in Ireland avoids:
the release of 2,700 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), the main gas
responsible for global warming
49 tonnes of Sulphur Dioxide (SO2), the main cause of acid rain
5.5 tonnes of Nitrous Oxides (NOx) responsible for building corrosion
and global warming
the need to import 6,450 barrels of Oil
the landfilling of 175 tonnes of slag and ash
Glossary and facts:
Power is measured in:
1,000 watt (W) = 1 kilowatt (kW)
1,000 kW = 1 Megawatt (MW)
1,000,000 kW = 1 Gigawatt (GW)
Energy is obtained by multiplying time by power. Energy is measured in:
1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) = 1 megawatt hour (MWh)
1,000,000 kWh = 1 Gigawatt hour (GWh)
1 kWh is roughly the electricity used by an electric cooker plate in one hour.
The average household uses roughly 5 MWh per year for their domestic
electricity requirements.
Fossil fuel: Material that is extracted from the earth derived from the remains
of living things e.g. coal, peat, oil or gas. They take thousands or millions of
years to form.
Greenhouse gas (GHG): Gases emitted, typically through the combustion of
fossil fuels for energy, which contribute towards global warming and climate
change. GHGs include Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4) and Oxides of
Nitrogen (NOx).
Other sources of Information:
Recommended Websites
Recommended Magazines
Renewable Energy World
New Energy
Sun and Wind Energy
Windpower Monthly
Wind Directions
Sustainable Energy Ireland, was established on May 1st, 2002, as a
statutory authority charged with promoting and assisting the
development of a sustainable national energy economy and is
funded by the Irish Government under the National Development
Plan 2000-2006 with programmes part financed by the European
The Renewable Energy Information Office, a national service of
Sustainable Energy Ireland was established to promote the use of
renewable resources and provide independent information and
advice on the financial, social and technical issues relating to
renewable energy development.
Sustainable Energy Ireland,
Renewable Energy Information Office,
Shinagh House,
t +353 23 42193
f +353 23 29154
e [email protected]
Printed on
recycled paper
Sustainable Energy Ireland is funded by
the Irish Government under the
National Development Plan 2000-2006
with programmes part financed by the
European Union
Wind Energy
and the
Friend or Foe?
Wind Energy and the Environment Friend or Foe?
Today, wind energy is the vanguard of clean
energy technologies. It is the most viable
energy option if we are to meet our future
electricity needs without causing global
warming and climate change. Wind energy
can save the environment from the damage
associated with conventional fossil fuel
generation, such as coal and oil.
Global Climate Change
Global climate change is now believed to be the
most serious environmental threat facing the
human race. The globally averaged surface
temperature is projected to increase by between
1.4 and 5.8°C by the end of this century, much
larger than the observed changes during the
20th century and very likely to be without
precedent during at least the last 10,000 years.
Global mean sea level is projected to rise by 0.09
to 0.88 metres between 1990 and 2100, causing
flooding to low-lying coasts and islands. Larger year-to-year variations in
temperature and rainfall are very likely over most areas leading to problems
for biodiversity, agriculture and the wider economy.
All methods of power generation have an impact on the environment, but the
effects of wind power, in contrast with conventional energy technologies, are
negligible. Wind turbines produce no pollutants, no harmful gas emissions, no
effluent, no waste products and no radioactivity. There are no ill effects to
populations elsewhere in the world, or to future generations.
Although the environmental impact of wind energy is far lower than that of
conventional energy sources, there are some effects on the environment such
as impacts upon the landscape, bird life, noise, and electromagnetic
How the Irish Public View Wind Farms
Lansdowne Market Research recently carried out an independent survey to
assess the attitude of the Irish public towards wind energy and wind farms. It
revealed that Irish people are realistic about the probable effects of climate
change and 84 % support energy policies that encourage the development of
wind and other renewable energy sources.
Amongst the findings:
More than 8 out of 10 believe wind energy
to be a good thing;
Two thirds of Irish adults are favourable
towards having a wind farm built
in their local area;
Wind farms are viewed positively
compared to other utility structures in
the environment;
Residents near operational wind farms do
not generally consider it to have adverse
The development of renewable energy, including wind energy, is one of the
main ways of mitigating climate change. Today, wind energy provides
electricity to the equivalent of 40 million European citizens, and wind farms in
Ireland supply enough clean green power to support over 146,000 users,
equivalent to the domestic electricity needs of County Cork.
Wind Farms and Birds
In the Environment…
The impacts of wind turbines upon bird life are very site specific and are either
by collision or migration interruption, rather than habitat or ecosystem
impacts and disturbance.
Wind turbines are a relatively new feature in the Irish countryside, and will
become more visible as more wind farms are built. Consultation with, and
acceptance by local communities is essential, especially in rural areas where
particularly high value is placed on the landscape amenity. Acceptance is more
likely where there has been a clear assessment of the impacts of a proposed
wind farm and the mitigation measures have been properly explained. Once
sited, existing activities such as agriculture can continue operating alongside
wind farms.
There is a preference for smaller, clustered
groups of turbines over larger scale
Research cited by the European Wind Energy Association shows that the risk
of bird deaths through collision with wind turbines is low. For example, it is
estimated that 33,000 birds are killed annually by wind turbines operating in
the USA, an average of 2.2 fatalities for each of the 15,000 turbines. In Spain, a
study showed 0.13 dead birds per year per turbine. By comparison in the USA,
over 100 million birds are estimated to die each year from colliding with
vehicles, buildings, power lines and other structures, with wind power
responsible for just 1 out of every 5,000 - 10,000 avian fatalities.
Wind farms from 15 - 20 years ago that were poorly sited caused a greater
number of bird deaths than today, but there is still a need to continue research
with modern turbines. Careful turbine siting, away from migration routes for
example, can virtually eliminate fatalities altogether. Worldwide, 99 % of the
threat to bird life is related to human activities, the most serious is habitat loss.
Wind Farms and Noise
Virtually everything with moving parts generates sound, and wind turbines are
no exception. The turbine blades passing through the air generate sound. This
aerodynamic sound is minimised by careful attention to the design and
manufacture of the blades. The sound made by the gearbox and generator is
minimised through efficient engineering and any remaining noise is contained
within the nacelle by sound insulation and isolation materials.
Wind turbines produce very low noise levels, comparable with the levels found
inside a typical living-room, a reading room of a library or in a quiet, airconditioned office.
When the wind is blowing, the noise level of the wind turbine is masked by the
sound of the wind itself;
when the wind isn’t blowing,
the turbines will not be
moving and thus sit silently in
the landscape.
The sound level produced by
typical wind farms is so low
that it would not be
noticeable in most residential
areas. However, the areas
suitable for such
developments can be in quiet
but exposed areas of the
countryside. A significant
amount of effort is therefore
put into minimising the
Wind Farms and EMI
You need not worry about the effect that a wind farm could have on the TV
and radio reception in the locality. Careful siting and minor technical
adjustments can easily overcome potential Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)
to telecommunications systems. So you can watch your favourite programmes
in the peace and quiet of the nearby wind farm!
Wind Farms and Shadow Flicker
Shadow flicker occurs where the blades of a wind turbine cast a moving
shadow over a window in a nearby house. This effect lasts only for a short
period and happens only under very specific and rare conditions.
Careful site selection, design and planning, and good use of relevant software,
can help avoid the possibility of shadow flicker in the first instance. However,
where shadow flicker could be a problem, developers should provide
calculations to quantify the effect and where appropriate take measures to
prevent or ameliorate the potential effect such as turning off a particular
turbine for a certain number of hours.
Without Wind
Wind energy saves emissions of polluting gases because
every unit of electricity produced by wind power replaces a
unit of electricity generated by other means. This is usually
oil or coal-fired plant, which tends to be taken "off-line"
when supply exceeds demand. Nuclear and some new gas
plant tend to be run continually as "base load", whenever
they are available. Coal fired power stations such as
Moneypoint in County Clare typically emit around 800 1000 grams of carbon dioxide for every unit (kilowatt hour)
of electricity they produce. Therefore each unit of electricity
produced by wind energy avoids an equivalent amount of
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