Wind Farm Development
Wind energy is a growth industry across Europe. Today, nearly all European countries, including Ireland, have considerable programmes for wind turbine installation.
Wind turbine technology continues to grow especially in relation to installing wind turbines at sea (offshore wind farms). 6 MW machines already exist and turbines of 7.5 or even 10 MW are currently being developed.
Since the first commercial wind farm in Ireland at Bellacorrick, Co. Mayo in 1992, an increasing number of projects are appearing in all regions of Ireland. As the economics of wind projects became more favourable and attractive many more areas across the country became suitable for wind turbines.
By the end of December 2011 there were 148 grid connected wind farms in the Republic of Ireland, the power output of these wind turbines totaling 1,630 MW (1 megawatt = 1 thousand kilowatts) and generating enough green electricity to supply more than 500,000 homes. A number of other projects are under construction and many more have been granted planning permission and/or that all important grid connection offer.
Wind energy programmes
The European models for wind energy programmes are Germany, which owns one third of the continent's installed wind power, Spain and Denmark. In 2009 wind turbines supplied approximately 5% of Europe's electricity consumption, with Germany (over 25,000MW installed rated capacity), Spain and Denmark the top contributors. In 2009 wind provided Ireland with 10.5% of its electricity. On a global scale wind output produced enough electricity in 2009 to supply Ireland and Australia with all their electrical needs.
In order to realise the potential that exists for a successful Irish wind industry, we can draw on the experience of other countries. This way the concerns and issues that can prove to be obstacles for the establishment of wind farms may be allayed or mitigated.
Visual impacts and landscape integration
To ensure that wind farms are sited appropriately and sensitively there are several rules that developers should adhere to:
- Visual harmony and balance - choice of turbines, towers, colour and implementation;
- Keep secondary structures to a minimum - bury on site cabling, minimal fencing, transformers inside towers where possible;
- Keep access roads to a minimum - use established roads where possible and follow natural contours if roads are necessary;
- Manage the 'building site' - remove waste, avoid erosion, replant the land;
- Ensure careful maintenance - a wind turbine is designed to work - if one is stopped among others working it will create disturbance and confusion.
Even though the benefits of wind energy to the global and local environment are widely acknowledged, fears and concerns still surface when discussing this energy source for the first time.
It would be incorrect to suggest wind turbines are silent. The perception that wind farms are noisy developments is also inaccurate. Since the early days of wind farm development great strides have been taken to minimise the mechanical noise associated with the drive train of the wind turbine.
Noise levels measured at the base of modern wind turbines typically ranges between 50 and 55dB(A); similar to the day to day noise you would expect to hear in a typical office environment.
The other type of noise is aerodynamic and is related to the movement of the blades - the 'swooshing' as they pass through the air. This type of noise has been lowered by the employment of larger blades that turn more slowly. The noise of the wind generally camouflages this noise when it is blowing and the turbines do not turn during calm periods and thus do not emit any noise.
Manufacturing wind turbines
Wind turbines are large complex industrial equipment and their manufacture involves the use of raw materials and energy. The materials used can be recycled at the end of their useful life (the capital from this can be used to reestablish a wind farm site to it's original state). The energy used in the manufacture of a wind turbine is typically made back within 6 months of the turbine becoming operational. As European electricity becomes less carbon intensive the embodied carbon will reduce further until we get to a stage when 100% renewable energy is used to manufacture renewable technology.
Celebration of wind farms
Sensitively designed and appropriately sited wind farms not only provide clean energy with minimal impact, they can become icons in the landscape which the public can associate with their locality.
The very low footprint of the wind turbines themselves mean that the land taken up by roads and foundations on a wind farm site is usually between 2 and 4%.This allows the land retain it's original use - farm work can continue around the wind turbines - be it livestock or crops.
Wind farms can offer markers for hikers and ramblers cyclists and walkers. Their size will attract attention and passers-by and information displayed at the site can educate regarding the benefits of wind energy. Wind farms should be seen as the providers of a clean and reliable power source. What could provide a greener image than the knowledge that energy is being respectfully and sustainably used from a source as clean as wind?