When people think of clean energy, wind power is usually the first thing that comes to mind- and for good reason. Wind power generation produces absolutely no pollutants, and once a windmill is constructed, its operation results in virtually no negative environmental effects.
Wind power has been utilized for millennia. It was used by sailing ships to move between continents, and by ancient windmills to draw water and process food. Wind power harnessing is quite simple. Wind spins a windmill which runs an electricity producing generator.
The only ecological impacts of a windmill stem from its construction. The construction of windmills involves concrete, alloys, and other materials that must be mined, processed, and transported. The environmental affects of these processes range from habitat destruction due to mining to greenhouse gas emissions due to the transportation of the materials to the construction plants and the windmills to their construction sites. The energy cost of windmill construction is low compared to the energy that the windmills produce over their lifetimes: one estimate is that it takes only six months for the energy production of a windmill to equal the energy used to construct it. The difference between windmills and other electricity generating systems are that most other systems require a constant supply of some material to remain in operation. The ecological impacts of the construction of conventional power systems increases every moment those systems remain in operation. For example, coal power requires coal, the mining of which involves severe habitat destruction. Also, power plants that operate on coal or other fossil fuels release carbon dioxide, mercury, and other harmful substances into the environment as they operate. Windmills do not. Windmills also require very little land for construction. In fact, farmers often lease the right to construct windmills on their land to power companies because windmills take up so little space.
There are some problems with that have prevented windmills from catching on. High production and installation cost combined with relatively low power output per device make windmills more expensive per joule than other electricity production systems, when the lifetime and maintenance costs of the systems are taken into account. It is for this reason that windmills are often subsidized by governments. Windmills are also an intermittent power source: the power they harness depends on the speed of the wind. Obviously, if there is no wind, windmills produce no power. This problem does not affect a windmill's ability to supplement other power sources. A windmill can be used in conjunction with other clean energy sources such as nuclear power plants and solar cells to provide an uninterrupted power supply. Windmills are just a part of a very possible clean energy infrastructure.
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