The Enercon E126 launched five years ago is still the world’s largest wind turbine with a production capacity of 7.5 MW. Harnessing wind energy has been in practice since times immemorial, with sailors harnessing it with the use of sails. The idea of utilizing the kinetic energy of wind to produce electricity came to the Scottish academic James Blyth when he installed the first electricity generating wind turbine as a battery-charging machine in July 1887 to light his holiday home in Marykirk, Scotland. Windmills have been used traditionally for other purposes like, pulling water out from wells, grinding grains, etc. The idea that wind energy could be utilized for commercial production of electricity became a reality when a prototype model of the modern horizontal-axis wind generators came into service at Yalta, USSR in 1931. The first utility grid-connected wind turbine to operate in the UK was built by John Brown & Company in 1951 in the Orkney Islands while as of 2012 Vestas is the largest manufacturers of wind turbines.
India has been one of the major producers of wind power with an installed capacity of 19051.5 MW. India ranks fifth in terms of installed wind power capacities, with Tamil Nadu being the major producer with 7154 MW of installed power capacity. The current energy scenario suggests that renewable energy is the way to go, as fossil fuels along with their exhaustible nature are majorly the cause for global warming. The unsustainable use of non-renewable resources has been touted as the major cause for the increasing global GHG emissions. Climate change mitigation strategies all around the world are advocating for the use of renewable energy sources.
Sources like solar, wind, biomass and water are the major options currently available for renewable energy production. While water and biomass are gaining popularity in India, solar and wind energy are lagging behind in terms of production capacity. The high prices per unit of electricity produced from solar panels are one of the reasons why solar energy has not gained the desired popularity. Wind energy on the other hand is gaining popularity in India with The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) having aimed to reach a target of 10,500 MW during the period, 2007-12, but an additional generation capacity of only about 6,000 MW was to be made available for commercial use by 2012. As of January 2013, India boasts of an installed capacity of 19051.5 MW.
The positives of electricity production from wind energy do not however cover up the fact that Wind Turbines are possibly the one of the most harmful among the renewable energy options available to us today. A recent report published by the CSE on the impact assessment of Wind turbine projects to be set up in Maharashtra have raised many an eyebrows on the issue of renewable energy’s -cleanliness-. The report mentions the harmful side-effects of utilizing wind turbines for electricity generation among its advantages as well. According to the study, wind projects set up on forestland and hilly areas can have a greater impact on water resources and ecology as compared to those in plains. The major disadvantage for humans is observed in case the turbines are placed near human settlements. Residents will be affected by the loud noises and the shadow flicker effect that is commonly associated with the wind turbines. Ecologically, birds and bats are affected severely due to the changing air pressures caused by the swiftly rotating turbines. Turbines also cause extreme soil erosion in forested and hilly areas causing a phenomenon known as linear erosion of soil. It has been observed in cases of large wind farms that the rotating blades cause many bird fatalities. All these ecological atrocities are the reason why there is a need for a paradigm shift from the conventional wind energy generation.
It is observed that instead of installing multiple small wind turbines in wind farms it is usually ecologically more efficient to have one large turbine operating in the area. The velocity of the blades is lower than the small turbines thereby reducing the combined effects of shadow flicker and linear fragmentation of soil. Offshore wind turbines have proven to be more effective as compared to terrestrial/onshore ones. Current plan to install around 10,000 MW capacity wind farms in Maharashtra may prove disastrous to the ecology as well as to the population of the area.
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