The 4 Main Environmental Benefits of Wind Energy: The Big Picture

The 4 Main Environmental Benefits of Wind Energy: The Big Picture

By
Grace Smoot

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Wind energy gained traction beginning in the 2000s when we realized that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is crucial to mitigating climate change. So, we had to ask: What are the environmental benefits of wind energy?

The main environmental benefits of wind energy include providing a renewable and sustainable source of energy, having a very low carbon footprint, protecting air quality, and generating very few waste products. Overall, wind energy is considered to be an environmentally friendly energy source.

Keep reading to find out all about what the environmental benefits of wind energy are, how safe and dangerous it is, what its pros and cons are, and how wind energy can specifically help mitigate climate change.

The Big Picture of the Environmental Benefits of Wind Energy

Wind energy is defined as the conversion of moving air into electrical energy through the use of wind turbines. 

Wind: a current of air moving approximately horizontally, especially one strong enough to be felt”

Cambridge Dictionary

Harnessing wind power falls into two main categories:

  1. Onshore wind energy: Wind turbines are located on land. Construction, transportation, maintenance costs, and infrastructure needed to transmit electricity from onshore turbines to consumers are low. 
  1. Offshore wind energy: Wind turbines are located in the ocean or freshwater. Construction, transportation, maintenance costs, and infrastructure needed to transmit electricity from offshore turbines to consumers are high. 

Both systems take the energy from wind and convert it to electricity, just in a different environment. Onshore wind is the main mechanism used today to harness wind energy.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the big picture of wind energy? Check it out in this article here: “How Does Wind Energy Work? From Source Til Energy Generation
How Environmentally Friendly Is Wind EnergyOverall, wind energy is considered to be environmentally friendly. It generates a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions as fossil fuels, emits zero sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxide emissions, and has a minimal impact on the land.
Benefit #1: Wind energy is a renewable and sustainable energy sourceWind energy is a renewable and sustainable resource that can reduce emissions for generations to come.
Benefit #2: Wind energy has a low carbon footprintWind energy has one of the lowest carbon footprints out of all energy types. On a life-cycle basis, onshore wind energy emits 11 and offshore wind energy emits 12 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh of electricity produced, the joint-lowest out of all fuel types.
Benefit #3: Wind energy protects air qualityWind energy produces a fraction of the pollution and toxic chemicals that fossil fuels produce, helping to protect air quality.
Benefit #4: Wind energy generates few waste productsWind energy generates few waste products upon operation, and some components of wind energy can be recycled.

What Are the 4 Main Environmental Benefits of Wind Energy

Wind energy is a renewable and sustainable energy source that has a low carbon footprint, protects air quality, and generates very few waste products.

Environmental Benefit #1: Wind Energy Is a Renewable and Sustainable Energy Source

Wind energy is a renewable and sustainable resource that can reduce emissions for generations to come.

Environmental Benefit #1

Renewable energy sources are resources that naturally replace themselves over time. 

Renewable Energy: energy that is produced using the sun, wind, etc., or from crops, rather than using fuels such as oil or coal | types of energy that can be replaced naturally such as energy produced from wind or water”

Cambridge Dictionary

Wind energy is classified as a renewable energy source because it is a form of solar energy, which itself is renewable. Wind results from the uneven heating of the earth’s surface, irregularities of the earth’s surface, and the earth’s rotation. The sun will continue to produce energy until the sun goes supernova (which won’t be for another 5 billion years); therefore, wind energy is a virtually inexhaustible energy source. 

Wind energy is also classified as a sustainable energy source. Sustainable energy sources meet the needs of our current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable: The ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level | Avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance”

Oxford Dictionary

Wind energy emits minimal greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and has a minimal effect on the environment, provided that proper siting and disposal methods are followed. This means future generations can continue to harness wind energy for many years.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about renewable and sustainable energy? Check it out in these articles here: 

Environmental Benefit #2: Wind Energy Has a Low Carbon Footprint

Wind energy has one of the lowest carbon footprints out of all energy types.

Environmental Benefit #2

The carbon footprint is one of the ways we measure the effects of human-induced global climate change. It primarily focuses on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with consumption and includes other emissions such as methane (CH4), nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Carbon footprint: the amount of greenhouse gasses and specifically carbon dioxide emitted by something (such as a person’s activities or a product’s manufacture and transport) during a given period”

Merriam Webster

On a life-cycle basis, onshore wind energy emits 11 and offshore wind energy emits 12 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh of electricity produced, the joint-lowest out of all fuel types. 

Have a look at the illustration below to see the average life-cycle CO2 equivalent emissions of different energy sources and how they compare to wind energy.

Illustration of the Average life-cycle CO2 equivalent emissions from World Nuclear Association
World Nuclear Association: Average life-cycle CO2 equivalent emissions

Overall, onshore and offshore wind energy have the joint-lowest carbon footprints out of all energy types, making wind one of our cleanest sources of energy. 

Related: Are you interested in learning more about the carbon footprint of wind energy? Check it out in this article here: “What Is the Carbon Footprint of Wind Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment

Environmental Benefit #3: Wind Energy Protects Air Quality

Wind energy produces a fraction of the pollution and toxic chemicals that fossil fuels produce, helping to protect air quality.

Environmental Benefit #3

Air pollution can cause numerous health problems including asthma, breathing difficulties, brain damage, heart problems, and cancer. Fossil fuel (coal and natural gas) combustion emits coal ash residue, toxic heavy metals, CO2, carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) into the atmosphere, impairing public health.

Rather than combusting toxic materials like coal does, wind turbines use aerodynamic force from rotor blades to turn kinetic energy into electricity. Wind turbines produce minimal greenhouse gasses and emit no CO, SO2, or NOx, thereby helping to protect air quality.

Environmental Benefit #4: Wind Energy Generates Few Waste Products 

Wind energy generates minimal waste products upon operation, and some components of wind turbines can be recycled.

Environmental Benefit #4

In terms of emissions, wind energy produces few waste products, generating approximately 12 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh of electricity produced and zero CO, SO2, or NOx emissions. They also do not require water for cooling and, unlike solar panels which can be classified as hazardous waste depending on the type of metals present, wind turbines are not classified as hazardous waste

Recycling end-of-life wind turbines can reduce their impact on the environment. The technology to recycle wind turbines does exist, but the practice is not currently in widespread use. Most turbines consist of 8,000+ parts and were constructed 20-25 years ago with materials that cannot be easily separated into their constituent components. Even though 96% of a turbine is made from recyclable materials, old turbines are most often dumped in landfills because recycling is such a difficult process. 

However, the wind industry has seen recent advances in recycling technology, as companies are starting to design future wind turbines with recycling in mind. Just in 2022, Carbon Rivers, a US-based company, commercialized a process to reclaim glass fibers from decommissioned wind turbine blades. Because turbine blades are typically 50% glass or carbon fiber composite by weight, recycling them can significantly reduce their environmental impact.

What Are the 3 Main Environmental Drawbacks of Wind Energy

Wind energy is an intermittent energy source, can cause noise and visual pollution, and can negatively impact wildlife if proper siting, construction, and disposal methods are not followed.

Environmental Drawbacks of Wind EnergyQuick Facts
Drawback #1: Wind energy is an intermittent energy sourceWind energy production is heavily influenced by location, time of year, and weather patterns, making it unpredictable at times.
Drawback #2: Wind energy can cause noise and visual pollutionThe mechanical operation and large nature of wind turbines can generate noise and visual pollution.
Drawback #3: Wind energy can negatively impact wildlifeDuring wind energy site construction, the increased presence of people, traffic, and noises can disrupt grouse and other ground-nesting birds. In addition, spinning turbine blades can prove to be a hazard for birds and bats. 
Related: Are you interested in learning more about the environmental drawbacks of wind energy? Check out the full article here: “The 3 Environmental Drawbacks of Wind Energy: The Big Picture

How Environmentally Friendly Is Wind Energy

Overall, wind energy is considered to be environmentally friendly.

Environmentally friendly: (of products) not harming the environment.”

Cambridge Dictionary

Wind energy does just as the word implies, it has a minimal, negative impact on the environment.

How environmentally friendly is the building of wind energyThe building of wind energy can be environmentally friendly so long as clearing the land for construction does not disturb natural habitats and degrade the land.
How environmentally friendly is the operating and maintaining of wind energyWind energy emits minimal greenhouse gas emissions and has a minimal effect on the environment, provided that proper siting of wind farms occurs.
How environmentally friendly is the building back of wind energyWind turbines are not considered to be toxic to the environment. Recycling end-of-life wind turbines can help reduce their environmental impact.
Related: Are you interested in learning more about how environmentally friendly wind energy is? Check it out in this article here: “How Environmentally Friendly Is Wind Energy? A Life-Cycle Assessment

How Safe or Dangerous Is Wind Energy

Overall, wind energy is not considered to be dangerous. Holistically and throughout its life cycle, wind is safe and beneficial for human and animal health, the environment, and the energy grid. It is also significantly safer than fossil fuels and other types of renewable energy.

Related: Are you interested in learning more about how safe or dangerous wind energy is? Check it out in these articles here: 

    Here’s How Safe Wind Energy Is

    Overall, wind energy is a safe form of energy regarding human and animal health, the environment, the energy grid, and throughout all stages of its life cycle.

    How Safe Is Wind Energy at a Holistic LevelHuman and Animal Health: Wind energy is safe for human and animal health and can be made safer with proper siting, monitoring, and maintenance of wind farms. 
    Environment: Wind energy emits minimal greenhouse gas emissions and has a minimal effect on the environment.
    Energy Grid and Infrastructure: Wind energy is a safe and beneficial addition to our power grid. It promotes the decentralization of our energy supply, which increases power grid efficiency by reducing peak time usage and decreasing the likelihood of power outages. 
    How Safe Is Wind Energy Across Its Life-CycleBuilding: Safe work practices and proper training of wind professionals can mitigate any risks associated with constructing wind farms.
    Operating and Maintaining: Wind energy is considered safe to operate and maintain because it does not harm human health or the environment when producing energy. 
    Building Back: This final stage is considered to be safe overall, with the most common workplace hazards (lifting, trips and falls, electricity, and ladders) able to be mitigated by safe work practices. 
    How Safe Is Wind Energy In Comparison to Other Types of EnergyWind energy is one of our safest forms of energy and has one of the lowest death rates from accidents and air pollution per unit of electricity generation.

    Here’s How Dangerous Wind Energy Is

    Overall, wind energy is considered minimally dangerous in terms of human and animal health, the environment, the energy grid, and through all stages of its life cycle. 

    How Dangerous Is Wind Energy at a Holistic LevelHuman and Animal Health: Wind energy is not dangerous to humans and is minimally dangerous to animals, with the main concerns being habitat loss and fragmentation of natural habitats.
    Environment: Wind energy is minimally dangerous to the environment, with land degradation being the main concern. 
    Energy Grid and Infrastructure: Wind energy is not considered to be dangerous to our energy grid or supporting infrastructure
    How Dangerous Is Wind Energy Across Its Life-CycleBuilding: Building wind farms can expose workers to arc flashes (arc flash burn and blast hazards), electric shock, falls, and thermal burns.
    Operating and Maintaining: Wind energy has minimal dangers associated with this stage, with burns and electric shock being the most common.
    Building Back: The most common workplace hazards of this stage include those resulting from lifting, trips and falls, electricity, and ladders.
    How Dangerous Is Wind Energy In Comparison to Other Types of EnergyWind energy is significantly less dangerous than fossil fuels and other types of renewable energy. In fact, wind is one of the, if not the, safest forms of energy with a death rate of only 0.04 deaths per terawatt-hour of electricity produced.

    What Are the 6 Pros and 5 Cons of Wind Energy

    Wind energy is a renewable and sustainable energy source, has a low carbon footprint, protects air quality, is efficient, generates few waste products, and promotes energy independence and security.

    However, wind energy is also an intermittent energy source, faces high upfront and maintenance costs, can cause noise and visual pollution, and can negatively impact wildlife.

    Related: Are you interested in learning more about the pros and cons of wind energy? Check out the full article here: “Wind Energy: All 6 Pros and 5 Cons Explained

    What Are the 6 Pros of Wind Energy

    Wind energy is a renewable and sustainable energy source, has a low carbon footprint, protects air quality, is efficient, generates few waste products, and promotes energy independence and security.

    6 Pros of Wind EnergyQuick Facts
    #1: Wind energy is a renewable energy sourceWind energy is classified as a renewable energy source because it is a form of solar energy, which itself is renewable. It is also sustainable because it emits minimal greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and does not negatively affect the environment, provided that proper siting and disposal methods are followed.
    #2: Wind energy has a low carbon footprintOn a life-cycle basis, onshore wind energy emits 11 and offshore wind energy emits 12 grams of CO2 equivalent per kWh of electricity produced, the joint-lowest out of all fuel types. 
    #3: Wind energy protects air qualityRather than combusting toxic materials like coal does, wind power plants harness the energy of the wind to generate electricity. Wind turbines produce minimal greenhouse gasses and emit no sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides, thereby helping to protect air quality.
    #4: Wind energy is efficientToday’s wind turbines have an average commercial energy conversion rate of 25-45%, depending on a variety of environmental factors. In addition, wind energy is an efficient use of space. Although wind farms require large amounts of land, the turbines themselves do not take up large amounts of land. 
    #5: Wind energy generates few waste productsWind energy generates minimal CO2 and few other waste products upon operation, and components of wind turbines can be recycled.
    #6: Wind energy promotes energy independence and energy security Wind energy can help us transition away from fossil fuels and towards an energy-independent future.

    What Are the 5 Cons of Wind Energy

    Wind energy is an intermittent energy source, faces high upfront and maintenance costs, can cause noise and visual pollution, and can negatively impact wildlife.

    5 Cons of Wind EnergyQuick Facts
    #1: Wind energy is an intermittent energy sourceWind energy production is heavily influenced by location, time of year, and weather patterns, making it unpredictable at times. Wind patterns and speeds vary greatly across the world and can be modified by bodies of water, vegetation, and differences in terrain. 
    #2: Wind energy has high upfront costsSmaller-scale wind turbines under 100 kilowatts can cost $3,000-$8,000 per kilowatt hour of installed capacity. Commercial, utility-scale wind turbines cost between $1.3 million to $2.2 million per megawatt (MW) of installed capacity. 
    #3: Wind energy can be expensive to maintainRoutine maintenance costs roughly 1-2 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity produced and includes insurance, land rent, and repair/replacement of spare parts. This works out to $42,000 – $48,000 per year for an average US utility-scale wind farm.
    #4: Wind energy can cause noise and visual pollutionBoth the mechanical operation and wind vortex created by rotating wind turbine blades generate some levels of noise pollution. In addition, wind turbines typically must be constructed high up to capture enough wind, which can obstruct scenic views including mountain ranges, oceans, and lakes
    #5: Wind energy can negatively impact wildlifeDuring wind energy site construction, the increased presence of people, traffic, and noises can disrupt grouse and other ground-nesting birds. In addition, spinning turbine blades can prove to be a hazard for birds and bats

    How Effective and Efficient Is Wind Energy

    In terms of effectiveness, wind turbines are effective at converting wind into electricity. In addition, wind energy has a low carbon footprint, protects air quality, and promotes energy security and independence. However, it can also be intermittent and come with high upfront costs. 

    In terms of efficiency, wind turbines are efficient at converting wind into electricity. In addition, wind energy is a renewable and sustainable energy source, increases the efficiency of the power grid, and generates few waste products.

    Wind energy is effective because:

    However, two of the main drawbacks associated with wind energy are intermittency and high upfront costs.

    Wind energy is efficient because:

    Related: Are you interested in learning more about how effective and efficient wind energy is? Check out the full article here: “How Effective and Efficient Is Wind Energy?

    How Can Wind Energy Help Mitigate Climate Change

    Climate change is a severe, long-term consequence of fossil fuel combustion. If left untreated, atmospheric CO2 can remain there for tens of thousands of years and exacerbate the negative effects of climate change. Wind energy emits less CO2 upon operation than fossil fuels and can therefore reduce our total emissions. 

    How is Climate Change Defined

    Climate change is arguably the most severe, long-term global impact of CO2. Every year, we emit approximately 37 billion tons of CO2. The carbon found in fossil fuels reacts with oxygen in the air to produce CO2

    Climate change: changes in the earth’s weather, including changes in temperature, wind patterns, and rainfall, especially the increase in the temperature of the earth’s atmosphere that is caused by the increase of particular gasses, especially carbon dioxide.

    Oxford Dictionary

    When carbon enters the atmosphere, it absorbs sunlight and wind radiation, trapping the heat and acting as an insulator for the planet.

    Since the Industrial Revolution, Earth’s temperature has risen a little more than 1 degree Celsius (°C), or 2 degrees Fahrenheit (°F). Between 1880-1980 the global temperature rose by 0.07°C every 10 years. This rate has more than doubled since 1981, with a current global annual temperature rise of 0.18°C, or 0.32°F, for every 10 years

    How Does Wind Energy Specifically Help Mitigate Climate Change

    The global average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere today registers at over 400 parts per million, the highest ever recorded. Wind energy can help lower this concentration because it can replace some of the burning of fossil fuels (e.g., coal, oil, natural gas) with a cleaner form of renewable energy.

    Throughout its life cycle, wind energy produces 0.02% of the CO2 emissions per unit of electricity than coal produces. And after 3 to 6 months of operation, a wind turbine has effectively offset all emissions from its construction, which means it can operate virtually carbon-free for the rest of its lifetime.

    Increasing wind energy usage can reduce CO2 emissions, and the more we reduce CO2 emissions, the more we combat the negative effects associated with climate change including temperature rise, sea-level rise, ice melting, and ocean acidification

    When these rates are slowed, the earth’s biodiversity does not have to struggle to adapt to temperature and pH changes. People will not be displaced due to the flooding of coastal areas. And icebergs will continue to provide climate regulation. 

    Final Thoughts

    Wind energy is a renewable and sustainable energy source that has a low carbon footprint, protects air quality, and generates very few waste products.

    Wind energy is poised to see continued growth in the future as we look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming. As we look towards a future powered by renewables, wind energy is predicted to continue increasing in capacity because it benefits both our atmosphere and Earth’s biota.

    Stay impactful,

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