Electricity from wind farms costs around four times as much as that produced by conventional electrical generators. Ever wonder why? After all, once the towers are in place, their fuel is both free and inexhaustible. Why is it so much more expensive?
It’s partly due to the nature of wind itself. Sometimes it blows; sometimes it doesn’t. Say a wind farm has the capacity to power 30,000 homes. But when the air is calm and still, those wind towers are generating absolutely no electricity. So that wind farm must be paired with conventional generators which can provide the missing electricity when the wind isn’t blowing. You see the problem: to provide that 30,000 homes’ worth of electricity, there must be two facilities with that capability, not just one, and that’s costly.
When the wind does blow, it does not do so consistently; there are sudden gusts, and sometimes lulls. So if you were getting all of your electricity from a wind farm, you would suffer a series of frequent power surges and/or brownouts, an intolerable situation and another reason for the pairing of wind farms and conventional power plants. The latter are needed to smooth out the erratic power generation of wind farms. Since the conventional generators must be ready to instantly increase power to alleviate wind lulls, they must be running all the time. This means that they are often burning fuel (and so giving off carbon dioxide) yet not producing any electricity whatsoever.
Still another factor is that the most dependable sites for wind power seldom are close to the metropolitan areas which they serve. So wind farm electricity must be sent long distances, and much is therefore lost through electrical resistance in the wires transmitting it.
The problems discussed above are intrinsic to wind power, and cannot be alleviated through engineering. Great Britain’s wind farms have been giving the English a demonstration of the above problems. Solar panels also use a free, inexhaustible fuel, but since the sun doesn’t shine all the time either, Spain’s solar power facilities have difficulties similar to those of wind power.
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