The 3 Main Environmental Drawbacks of Wind Energy: The Big Picture

The 3 Main Environmental Drawbacks of Wind Energy: The Big Picture

By
Grace Smoot

Read Time:14 Minutes

CLICK TO
SUBSCRIBE

follow follow
Impactful Ninja is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more Learn more .
Affiliate Disclosure

Hey fellow impactful ninja ?

You may have noticed that Impactful Ninja is all about providing helpful information to make a positive impact on the world and society. And that we love to link back to where we found all the information for each of our posts.

  • Most of these links are informational-based for you to check out their primary sources with one click.

  • But some of these links are so-called "affiliate links" to products that we recommend.

Why do we add these product links?

First and foremost, because we believe that they add value to you. For example, when we wrote a post about the environmental impact of long showers, we came across an EPA recommendation to use WaterSense showerheads. So we linked to where you can find them. Or, for many of our posts, we also link to our favorite books on that topic so that you can get a much more holistic overview than one single blog post could provide.

And when there is an affiliate program for these products, we sign up for it. For example, as Amazon Associates, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What do these affiliate links mean for you?
  1. First, and most importantly, we still only recommend products that we believe add value for you.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission - but at no additional costs to you.

  3. And when you buy something through a link that is not an affiliate link, we won’t receive any commission but we’ll still be happy to have helped you.

What do these affiliate links mean for us?
  1. When we find products that we believe add value to you and the seller has an affiliate program, we sign up for it.

  2. When you buy something through one of our affiliate links, we may earn a small commission (at no extra costs to you).

  3. And at this point in time, all money is reinvested in sharing the most helpful content with you. This includes all operating costs for running this site and the content creation itself.

What does this mean for me personally?

You may have noticed by the way Impactful Ninja is operated that money is not the driving factor behind it. It is a passion project of mine and I love to share helpful information with you to make a positive impact on the world and society. However, it's a project in that I invest a lot of time and also quite some money.

Eventually, my dream is to one day turn this passion project into my full-time job and provide even more helpful information. But that's still a long time to go.

Stay impactful,

Wind energy is heralded by many as one of our most beneficial and needed energy sources to ensure a sustainable future for generations to come. It can play a vital role in mitigating climate change, yet no energy source comes without drawbacks. So, we had to ask: What are the environmental drawbacks of wind energy?

The main environmental drawbacks of wind energy are that it is an intermittent energy source, can have a large land-use carbon footprint, and can negatively impact wildlife. Overall, wind energy is considered to be an environmentally friendly energy source.

Keep reading to find out all about what the environmental drawbacks 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 Drawbacks 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.
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. 

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 Drawback #1: Wind Energy Is an Intermittent Energy Source

Wind energy production is heavily influenced by location, time of year, and weather patterns, making it unpredictable at times.

Environmental Drawback #1

Two of the main drawbacks associated with renewable energy are intermittency and lower levels of energy output, with wind energy being no exception.

Wind patterns and speeds vary greatly across the world and can be modified by bodies of water, vegetation, and differences in terrain. An average annual wind speed of 9 miles per hour (mph) or 4 meters per second (m/s) for small turbines and 13mph (5.8m/s) for utility-scale turbines is necessary to economically harness wind energy

But wind does not always blow at a constant speed, and sometimes it doesn’t at all. The unpredictable nature of wind means we cannot rely on it fully to produce all of our energy, but it can shoulder some of the burden of our energy demands.

Environmental Drawback #2: Wind Energy Can Cause Noise and Visual Pollution

The mechanical operation and large nature of wind turbines can generate noise and visual pollution.

Environmental Drawback #2

Both the mechanical operation and wind vortex created by rotating wind turbine blades generate some levels of noise pollution.

  • Modern, small to medium turbines generate roughly 6 decibels (dB) of sound, slightly above ambient wind noise. 
  • Utility-scale, onshore turbines generate roughly 35-45 dB of sound, less than a refrigerator (50 dB) and city car traffic (70 dB).
  • Utility-scale, offshore turbines generate roughly 10-20 fewer dB of underwater noise than ships in the same frequency range.

Overall, wind turbine noise pollution is minimal and can be made even less with proper siting. Utility-scale turbines are typically constructed no less than 984 feet (300 meters) from homes or buildings, and offshore turbines are usually constructed far enough away from land so that people onshore cannot hear them.

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. The larger a turbine is, the more energy it can generate, and both turbine heights and blade lengths have increased over the years.

All of this leads to turbines taking up more space, resulting in greater chances for obscured views. 

Environmental Drawback #3: Wind Energy Can Negatively Impact Wildlife

The construction and operation of wind farms can negatively impact wildlife.

Environmental Drawback #3

During 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

Negative wildlife interactions can be mitigated by:

  • Monitoring the site for animal presence
  • Stopping or slowing turbine blades when animals are present or expected to be present
  • Deploying deterrent technologies to discourage wildlife from approaching spinning turbine blades 

In some cases, construction can be halted altogether if wildlife is present. For example, if an offshore site is being constructed in a whale migration corridor, work can be postponed during migration season so as not to disrupt the whales.

Overall, proper siting and careful construction of wind farms can mitigate negative interactions with wildlife. 

What Are the 4 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.

4 Environmental Benefits of Wind EnergyQuick Facts
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.
Related: Are you interested in learning more about the environmental benefits of wind energy? Check out the full article here: “The 4 Environmental Benefits 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 energySolar 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 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.

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,

Illustration of a signature for Grace



Sources

Photo of author
Did you like this article?

Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.

Newsletter Form - After Content

Three Related Posts

One Unrelated Post

Illustration of our Impactful Ninja logo, holding up a newsletter with a green heart
Become more impactful, one email at a time
Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.
Illustration of our Impactful Ninja logo, which is a ninja holding a green heart and has a light-green outline here
Become more impactful, one email at a time
Get the 5-minute newsletter that makes reading impactful news enjoyable—packed with actionable insights to make a positive impact in your daily life.