When assessing the introduction of wind energy conversion to a new area, it is important to consider the environmental, economic, and social impacts. Birds feel the environmental consequences of collecting wind energy, and humans experience noise emissions and the visual impact of the turbines. The presence of turbines may alter the breeding and feeding patterns of some avian species. Some birds have been killed or injured from collisions with blades. Some may be sucked into the draft created by the rotating blades, but some may just be attracted to the hum of the machine. However, the 300 birds killed in Altamont Pass, California, in the 1980s do not seem as significant when compared with the millions of birds killed by U.S. hunters and the one billion birds killed annually by flying into glass windows. To combat these occurrences, certain measures have been put in place, such as avoiding migration routes and using fewer, larger turbines.
The visual aspect may not be considered an important environmental impact, but it has generated public concern. The elements that must be considered are the number and design of turbines, the turbine arrangement, their color, and the number of blades. The wind turbines may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it is hoped that with the knowledge of the technology and services they deliver, they will become more acceptable.
Noise emission due to wind energy is another consequence that is relative to the public's perception. Its impacts can range from annoyance, to sleep interruption, to effects on hearing. A 600 kW wind turbine will produce around 55 decibels (dB) of noise when a receptor is 164 ft. (50 m.) away. This amount will decrease as the distance increases. This level falls in between that of the noise produced in the average office (50 dB) and that of an average factory (60 dB). While this may seem a tolerable amount, it is dependent on individuals' personal discretion and tolerance. Because an individual's level of tolerance of noise is subjective, there is no way to please everyone; hopefully public education about the technology will increase acceptance.
The economic impact of employing wind technologies is beneficial. This would be especially helpful in developing countries where billions of people still lack access to electricity and other modern forms of energy. Limited access to fossil fuels and the abundance of renewable, sustainable sources has led to the creation of 100,000 jobs in the wind industry worldwide. In 2003, $9 billion was invested in the wind industry globally.
This influx could greatly assist weaker, developing economies. The decreasing costs of the operation and services provided by wind energy are also appealing to poorer countries. By 2020, the cost may even be reduced to 2.6C/kW hour.
One of the factors determining the economic worth of wind energy production is siting. The strength of wind spectra is one of the critical factors in deciding the cost of wind-generated electricity. Therefore, as the velocity of the wind increases, the cost is reduced. Also included in site-specific factors are the cost of land, installation, and environmental factors such as climate and harmful substances in the atmosphere.
Machine parameters include the cost of the turbines themselves. The cost of wind-generated electricity can be reduced with an increase in turbine size. When the size is scaled up from 20 kW to 50 kW, the cost/kW is reduced by 18 percent. Other factors that influence the cost are the existing energy market and policy issues, including incentives and exemptions. With the goal of promoting clean and easily accessible energy sources, several governments are giving financial support to the development of renewable energies.
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