It’s hard to escape news of the energy challenges the United States will continue to face in the coming decades. As we try to move past a petroleum-powered economy, consumers will increasingly turn to wind energy as a way to keep the lights on while preserving the environment. Just as European explorers counted upon the winds to fill their sails on the way to undiscovered countries, the future of energy, in part, is dependent on our ability to turn those same winds into the electricity we use every day.
How do you turn a gentle breeze or a hard gale into electricity in the first place? Wind power updates the principles behind the old-fashioned windmill. Those mills use the wind to turn blades that are directly attached to a grindstone to make flour. Today’s windmills usually feature three blades and are attached to a turbine that generates electricity and transfers it to substations. From there, the electricity goes into the grid and into your home.
Wind power is a particularly worthwhile option for the United States because of the healthy amount of wind you can find in the middle of North America. (Who would have thought all of those biting winter winds could be a good thing?) Thanks to the topography of the continent, the Texas panhandle experiences some of the strongest, most valuable wind speeds around.
Wind farms are large tracts of land dotted with a network of turbines. These wind farms are much better to look at than coal-burning power plants and are a big part of the future of cleaner, renewable energy for homes and industry. Communities, at times, have objected to the presence of these traditional energy plants. As suburbs continue to sprawl, wind farms will prove to be better neighbors than the plants most of us get our energy from today. After all, they don’t belch greenhouse gases into the sky or contaminate the local groundwater.
The future of energy also requires that everyone pitch in. Large wind farms will be an important part of this plan, but individual wind turbines will also grow in popularity. These roof-mounted turbines can supplement the electricity provided by your utility company. The excess power generated by an individual turbine can even be sold back to the energy company, further easing the strain of those household energy bills.
Transportation is a big contributor to our current energy problems. After all, we all need to get where we are going and Americans love their cars. Electric and hybrid automobiles command an ever larger market share because they require no fossil fuels and do not emit greenhouse gases. Unfortunately, plug-in cars would be charged by existing power plants, and these do add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Wind farms will eliminate carbon dioxide and other gases from the equation.
The United States Department of Energy and the Texas State Energy Conservation Office (SECO) have helped to lay the groundwork for a future powered by wind. Even though wind power has only been in use for the past couple of decades, capacity has grown exponentially and will only continue to spike. In 1999, Texas only had the ability to generate 180 Megawatts of wind power. By 2007, Texas led the country in capacity, with Barauni 4,296 Megawatts. (Over the same time frame, the United States went from a total of 2,500 Megawatts of wind power capacity to 16,596 Megawatts.)
Indeed, there are some drawbacks to wind power. It costs a lot of money to build wind farms, and the technology is not yet fully developed. These negatives, however, are actually good things. This kind of construction provides good, honest jobs that can’t be outsourced. Putting the infrastructure in place will keep Americans employed on these wind farms and in the factories that make the turbines. The research and development that will lead to the next generation of equipment and distribution is also a big positive for the economy. Once scientists in the university and in the private sectors have optimized our use of wind power, consumers will power their homes with clean and reasonably priced electricity.
It’s never easy to switch from one way of doing things to another. People get used to doing things and don’t want to face the challenge that change represents. Thankfully, there is opportunity to be found. In switching to a future powered by wind (and other renewable energies), the United States will continue to lead the way in energy efficiency and combat climate change.
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