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Environmental Impacts of Wind Turbine

Environmental Impacts of Wind Turbine

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Published by Abhishek Ghosh
Environmental Impacts of Wind Turbine
Environmental Impacts of Wind Turbine

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Published by: Abhishek Ghosh on Apr 24, 2013
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1 Copyright © 2013 by Abhishek Ghosh
MEL427: Clean and Sustainable Energy EngineeringSubmitted on: 23-April-2013
 Abhishek GhoshP2009ME1074School of Mechanical Materials & Energy EngineeringIndian Institute of Technology Ropar Rupnagar 
140001, Punjab, INDIAMobile: (+91)95014-57087; E-mail: abhishekgh@iitrpr.ac.in
Wind turbines are one of the foremost renewable energysources of the present times constituting 2.1% of worldelectricity production
. It has been incorporated by manynations like Denmark and Spain for producing a large chunk of their per capita energy usage. This trend is about to catch upwith the rest of the world in the near future with rising prices of conventional fossil fuels. Such a rising usage makes itimportant to study and understand any environmental Impactcaused by Wind Turbines.
Compared to the environmental impact of traditional energysources, the environmental impact of wind power is relativelyminor. Unlike electricity derived from fossil fuel-poweredgenerating plants, wind power consumes no fuel and emits noair pollution in operation.
Figure 1: Wind Turbine
In order to build wind turbines, materials must bemined, manufactured, processed and transported as with allconventional power plants. The energy consumed tomanufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power turbine is equal to the new energy produced by the windturbine within a few months
. While a wind farm may cover alarge area of land, many land uses such as agriculture arecompatible, with only small areas of turbine foundations andinfrastructure made unavailable for use.There are reports of bird and bat mortality at windturbines as there are around other artificial structures. Further,there are anecdotal reports of negative effects from noise on people who live very close to wind turbines.
Carbon dioxide emissions
Wind power plants consume resources during their manufacturing and construction which lead to CO
emissions.During manufacture of the wind turbine, steel, concrete,aluminum and other materials are made and transported usingenergy-intensive processes, generally using fossil energysources.Most estimates
of wind turbine life-cycle globalwarming emissions are between 0.02 and 0.04 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour. To put this intocontext, estimates of life-cycle global warming emissions for natural gas generated electricity are between 0.6 and 2 poundsof carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour and estimatesfor coal-generated electricity are 1.4 and 3.6 pounds of carbondioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour.A study by IPCC
stated that "Producing electricityfrom wind reduces the consumption of fossil fuels and thereforeleads to emissions savings", and found reductions in CO
 emissions ranging from 0.33 to 0.59 tones (0.36 to 0.65 shorttons) of CO
per MW-hr.
2 Copyright © 2013 by Abhishek GhoshThe initial carbon dioxide emission from energy used in theinstallation is "paid back" within about 6.6 months of operationfor wind turbines
.Thus wind energy can displace fossil fuel-based generation,reducing both fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions.
 Rare-earth mining pollution
The production of permanent magnets used in some windturbines makes use of neodymium. Primarily exported byChina, pollution concerns associated with the extraction of thisrare-earth element have prompted government to research theextraction process. Rare earth processing in China is a messy,dangerous, polluting business
. It uses toxic chemicals, acids,sulfates, ammonia. The workers have little or no protection.
Figure 2:The lake of toxic waste at Baotou, China, whichhas been dumped by the rare earth processing plants in thebackground
Research is underway on turbine and generator designs whichreduce the need for neodymium, or eliminate the use of rare-earth metals altogether.
Figure 3: EROI breakdown for a wind turbine
The energy return on investment (EROI) for windenergy is equal to the cumulative electricity generated over thelife time divided by the cumulative primary energy required to build and maintain a turbine.The EROI for modern large wind turbines
stands at36 (strongly proportional to turbine size).
 Land Use
Wind farms are often built on land that has already beenimpacted by land clearing. The vegetation clearing and grounddisturbance required for wind farms is minimal compared withcoal mines and coal-fired power stations. If wind farms aredecommissioned, the landscape can be returned to its previouscondition.The land can still be used for farming and cattlegrazing. Livestock are unaffected by the presence of windfarms. Depending on the local terrain and turbine configuration,wind projects occupy anywhere from 28
83 acres per megawatt, but only 2
of the project area is needed for turbine foundations, roads or other infrastructure. Hence, theother 95
98% could still be used for farming.In the UK there has also been concern about thedamage caused to peat bogs, which results in the release of more carbon dioxide than wind farms save
 Impact on wildlife
A study
in 2008 suggests that if it were possible to replace allfossil fuel generation world-wide with wind turbines, almost 14million fewer avian mortalities would occur annually due tohuman causes. This study did a broad assessment of anthropogenic causes of avian mortality and brought together many studies on deaths due to wind energy, fossil fuel energyand nuclear energy. It found that Wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per GW-Hr of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations areresponsible for about 5.2 fatalities per GW-Hr.
According to a study
by BUND in Germany, there isstatistically one bird death per year for two turbines, or 8,000 bird deaths per year. 5 - 10 million birds die in road traffic andthe same number again in power lines. Apart from direct birdcollisions, the huge pressure changes around wind turbines cancause serious internal damages to some birds, especially bats.A recent National Wind CoordinatingCommittee (NWCC) review
of peer-reviewed researchfound evidence of bird and bat deaths from collisions with windturbines and due to changes in air pressure caused by thespinning turbines, as well as from habitat disruption. The NWCC concluded that these impacts are relatively low and donot pose a threat to species populations.
3 Copyright © 2013 by Abhishek GhoshSuggestions
for deciding site location of wind farms:
Use existing data on migratory and other movementsof wildlife to develop predictive models of risk.
Use new and emerging technologies, including radar,acoustics, and thermal imaging, to fill gaps inknowledge of wildlife movements.
Identify specific species or sets of species most at risk in areas of high potential wind resources.
Offshore marine species
Offshore wind turbines can have similar impacts on marine birds, but as with onshore wind turbines, the bird deathsassociated with offshore wind are minimal. Wind farms locatedoffshore will also impact fish and other marine wildlife. Somestudies
suggest that turbines may actually increase fish populations by acting as artificial reefsStudy
finds offshore wind farms can co-exist withmarine environment.
Weather and climate change
Wind farms may affect weather in their immediate vicinity.Spinning wind turbine rotors generate a lot of turbulence intheir wakes like the wake of a boat. This turbulence increasesvertical mixing of heat and water vapor that affects themeteorological conditions downwind.Usually at night the air closer to the ground becomes colder when the sun goes down and the earth cools. But on huge windfarms the motion of the turbines mixes the air higher in theatmosphere that is warmer, pushing up the overall temperature.Satellite data over a large area in Texas, which is now covered by four of the worlds largest wind farms, found
that over adecade the local temperature went up by almost 1 Celsius asmore turbines are built.This could have long term effects on wildlifeliving in the immediate areas of wind farms. It could also affectregional weather patterns as warmer areas affect the formationof cloud and even wind speeds. This effect can be reduced byusing more efficient rotors or placing wind farms in regionswith high natural turbulence. Warming at night could benefitagriculture by decreasing frost damage and extending thegrowing season. Many farmers already do this with air circulators.
The noise from wind turbines stems from:
Aerodynamic noise: The vibration of the blades due tothe passing wind produces this sound.
Shaft noise: This is noise from the shaft and bearingsmoving.
Gearbox noise: Produced from the gear mechanism. Itcan be reduced by using different tooth profiles on thewheels. So-called spur-gears are the most cost-effective though noisiest. Helical gears and herring bone gears offer a much smoother mesh, resulting inless noise. Noise Measurements:A modern
wind turbine has a sound power* level of 90 -100dB. In 350 - 1,000m distance, the sound pressure* level isless than 45db, which is about the same noise level as turning a page in a book. Generally accepted noise levels for windturbines are 35db during night and 45dB during the day in frontof an open window.
* The
sound power
is the power of the sound
at source
, whereas
sound pressure
refers to the power of the sound at the
at adistance.
Shadow Flicker 
Wind turbines cast a shadow on their vicinity in direct sunlight.As the blades are turning they may cut through the light beams,causing a flickering effect. The flickering frequency from windturbines is below 2Hz, not in the range that can cause epilepticseizures (5 - 30Hz). Nevertheless, the flickering is annoyingwhen at home and awake.
Throughout this paper, wind power comes out as a victor in therenewable energy field in terms of its impact on theenvironment. Except for some special cases, wind turbines havemore positive impact on the environment as compared to itsnegative impacts. Further, most of the data used in this analysisis old and the newer technologies used now are much moreenvironment friendly.
1. Worldwide electricity production from renewable energysources .
[Online]http://www.energies-renouvelables.org/observ-er/html/inventaire/Eng/conclusion.asp.2. Environmental impact of wind power.
IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sourcesand Climate Change Mitigation. [Online] 2011.http://srren.ipcc-wg3.de/report/.4. Calculation of net energy gains for PV and wind turbines.[Online]https://sites.google.com/site/anatomyofglobalclimatechangevj/data-and-analysis.5. In China, true cost Britains clean green wind power. [Online]http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html.

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