Logistical & Economic Problems With Wind Energy

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster" by Bill Gates. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Is wind-generated energy a viable alternative to fossil fuels? What are the main problems with wind energy?

Wind power promises a clean and carbon-free energy source that can help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. However, there are significant logistical and economic challenges in implementing wind turbines on a global scale.

In this article, we’ll look at the main deterrents to the mass adoption of wind turbines.

Wind and Offshore Wind 

Wind-generated electricity faces many of the same challenges as solar. Gates notes that windmills take up ten times more space than solar and have similar reliability challenges (the wind doesn’t always blow). Additionally, Gates explains that the lengthy and complex permitting process for installing offshore wind turbines in the United States is a deterrent to widespread adoption. 

Windmills and Birds

Opponents of windmills often cite their impact on bird populations. For instance, in October of 2020, President Trump famously claimed that windmills kill “all the birds” during a debate with President Biden. This commonly held misconception is based on fact. Windmills do kill between 140 and 500 thousand birds annually. Still, this number pales in comparison to the one to four billion birds killed by domestic and feral cats and the estimated one billion birds that die from crashing into windows yearly. As a testament to wind power’s benefits, the National Audubon Society “strongly supports wind energy that is sited and operated properly to avoid…impacts on birds,” for example, by avoiding known bird migration routes.

Another problem with wind energy is that it’s location-specific, whereas fossil fuels can be shipped and used anywhere. Making a significant switch to wind (or solar) would necessitate a large-scale and coordinated update of electrical grids and power companies so that renewable energy generated in one location could be used in another. However, this would also necessitate crossing state or even national boundaries, adding political and economic complexity to the task. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, are easy to transport and our existing infrastructure is set up for their transport and use.

(Shortform note: The transportation of fossil fuels may be relatively easy compared to renewables; however, transporting fossil fuels is a major source of emissions in and of itself. Much of the global shipping industry’s revenue comes from shipping fossil fuels, and fossil fuels also power virtually all large shipping vessels. Problematically, emissions in this sector are growing despite global efforts to reduce atmospheric carbon. Representing the emissions of the global shipping industry as a country would make it the sixth largest emitter in the world!)

Logistical & Economic Problems With Wind Energy

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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