In this guide, we list the pros and cons of onshore and offshore wind energy.
This guide forms part of a series of guides we have put together outlining the benefits and disadvantages of different energy sources and energy generation methods.
Summary – Pros & Cons Of Onshore & Offshore Wind Energy
Is renewable and sustainable (unlike fossil fuels)
There is no re-fuelling that needs to take place once wind farms are set up (unlike coal plants for example)
Wind farms are generally simpler and have less running costs to maintain once in operation compared to coal plants and nuclear plants. Although – high labor costs for maintenance can increase costs depending on several factors
Wind energy is getting cheaper for consumers in some countries (as the technology and cost to produce wind farms gets cheaper)
Wind electricity prices for consumers can be more stable than fossil fuel electricity prices which can fluctuate
Doesn’t take up as much space and land as large solar farms
Allows a form of energy independence for individuals (and cities)
Allows people to disconnect from the energy grid
Has OK power output
Can be used by some homes
Good to use rurally
Wind farms can be set up with as many or as few wind turbines as desired, and the projects can be run in stages, unlike coal plants or nuclear plants that have to be built all at once
Wind energy is showing rapid growth in some parts of the world (like the MidWest in the US)
Large scale wind is usually distributed across a wide geographical area, and modular with several individual panel or panel farms. This creates less chance of damage to equipment or disruption to electricity supply in the case of extreme weather or a natural event in one area, compared to a fossil fuel plant that has one power plant in one spot
Power density and power per unit is not as good as coal or nuclear in a lot of instances
More of a supplementary power source for many cities as this stage – not yet suitable as a dominant energy source for the largest scale power production in some cities
Not yet as cost efficient as solar (there’s more investment in development of solar at the moment)
Can be an intermittent energy sources (as it requires consistent wind to produce energy)
Relies on conditions with wind to produce any energy at all
Not as portable as solar energy
Can have heavy upfront cost for larger scale wind farms
Time to break even from upfront costs can be 10, 20 or more years
Repair costs can be expensive
Can be noisy if you live near a wind farm
Wind farms can sometimes be a hazard for flying wildlife
Aesthetics – wind farms tend not to look great
Demand for wind energy can be sensitive to fossil fuel prices
Demand for wind energy may decrease when tax credits stop in some countries or regions
Wind requires more construction materials than nuclear
Turbines usually require oil
Wind energy might sit just behind solar in terms of long term potential for renewable energy (depending on whether onshore or offshore wind is being assessed).
At this stage, it is used more for supplementary power in an energy mix, but with more development in technology, and more investment, more wind energy projects might go ahead, and wind could become an increasingly larger part of different cities’ energy mixes.
Some cities and States/Provinces/Territories already use a significant amount of wind energy.
One drawback of wind energy is that that it relies on wind – and not every location has suitable windy conditions.
Another drawbacks is that it can be variable.
*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations.
Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples).
Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually.
Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.
What Is Wind Energy/Power?
Wind power is the generation of electricity by using air flow to spin wind turbines, then converting the mechanical energy into electrical (renewableresourcescoalition.org)
Pros Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms
Is Renewable & Sustainable
Wind is actually a form of solar energy.
Winds are created by a combination of uneven surfaces of the Earth, the Earth’s rotation on its axis, and imbalanced heating of the sun across our atmosphere.
This means that for at least the next 5 billion years (as long as the Sun is expected to be around for), we won’t run out of it, and it is therefore a more renewable energy source than fossil fuels for example.
Is Clean Energy Whilst In Operation
Unlike other energy sources such as coal, wind energy has neither greenhouse gas emissions or waste products during operation.
There are only some greenhouse gases at the manufacturing stage
Although there are GHGs from the manufacture and installation of wind turbines, these GHGs are expected to be recouped within 9 months of clean operation in most cases (ecavo.com)
Wind energy produces about the same greenhouse gas emissions as nuclear (dailymaverick.co.za).
Fuel Is Free, & No Refuelling Is Required
Once a wind turbine is set up, there is no fueling or refueling process that needs to take place, unlike a coal power plant for example.
Utilizing the wind is also free, compared to an energy source like coal that needs to be bought.
Running Costs Of Wind Turbines Are Relatively Low
After manufacture and install, a wind turbine usually requires little to maintain compared to a coal or nuclear plant.
There are maintenance and repair costs though, which are discussed elsewhere in this guide.
Wind Energy Is Getting Cheaper For Consumers
The cost to produce wind energy is decreasing over time as both technology improves, and demand increases.
Some sources indicate that since 1980, wind energy prices have decreased more than 80%.
This is due to research, improved technology, and increased demand.
Future trends are expected to be the same.
Electricity Price Stability
Fossil fuel prices can fluctuate with world fossil fuel events and the market.
Renewable energy can be much more stable in some places because of stable operating costs (ucsusa.org)
Doesn’t Take Up As Much Land As A Large Solar Farm
Whilst wind turbines and wind farms do take up land, they don’t take up as much real estate as solar panels.
The space in between wind turbines can also be used for other things, so land can be used more efficiently as a resource.
Wind energy can be produced most places in the world.
It doesn’t have to be connected to a power grid.
You also don’t have to rely on utility companies for electricity.
This gives wind energy a level of energy independence.
Power Output Is OK
One large wind turbine, on average, has the capacity to generate enough electricity to power 600 U.S. homes (ecavo.com)
Better power output means more potential to scale an energy source for larger populations of people (amongst other things).
Potentially Beneficial For Individuals
Wind energy gives individuals access to net metering which basically provides credit to electricity bills for any excess power generated in a given month.
So, a individual gets paid for extra energy production, and this makes wind energy a source of income for individuals in some instances.
Can Be Used Rurally
Like solar energy, because wind energy is an independent energy source and doesn’t rely on a power grid, it has good rural use application.
Wind Energy Is Showing Rapid Growth In Some Regions
Parts of the Midwest have been moving away from heavy reliance on coal and have seen rapid growth in wind energy (insideclimatenews.org)
Distribution & Modular Set Up
Wind generators are usually distributed across a wide geographical area, and modular with several individual wind generators or wind farms.
This means there is less chance of damage to equipment or disruption to electricity supply in the case of extreme weather or a natural event in one area, compared to a fossil fuel plant that has one power plant in one spot.
Hurricane Sandy had this impact (power loss and damage) on fossil fuel plants in New York and New Jersey, but not as much on renewable energy projects (ucsusa.org)
(renewableresourcescoalition.org, insideclimatenews.org, and ucsusa.org)
Cons Of Wind Energy, Turbines & Farms
Not As Good As Solar In Some Aspects
Wind might be worse than solar for cost and aesthetic purposes.
Amount of investment is another area.
Companies like Tesla and countries like Germany are investing heavily in developing solar technology, compared to wind.
Can Be Intermittent, Variable & Unpredictable
Wind energy can be unpredictable, as wind itself as well as wind speeds often rise and fall in different locations.
Although wind can produce energy at night (unlike solar), it isn’t enough to offset it’s unpredictability.
Although solar is variable as well, at least it is known how the sun rises and falls.
Can Increase Electricity Prices In Some Places
Can Have Significant Upfront Costs
Larger-scale wind farms and residential turbines can be very costly
Fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, currently produce electricity at a low rate, which makes it hard for wind to compete in the short term
Time To Break Even In Terms Of Cost
It takes anywhere from 10 to 20 years before a wind turbine breaks even.
This might not be as appealing for some private investors when looking at other energy sources to invest in
There Is Maintenance Required
Such as lubrication, changing oil over, and so on.
And maintenance might be carried out every 6 months (renewableenergyworld.com)
Repair Costs Can Be Expensive, Time Consuming & Hazardous
In addition to maintenance and running costs, there are potentially repair costs.
Repair costs can be more costly than maintenance costs depending on several factors
These factors can include but aren’t limited to – where the turbines are located, the size of them, the types of turbines, and so on.
Turbines are also usually located rurally, and repair workers can be hundreds of feet in the air, which might be hazardous in some instances.
Can Be Difficult To Live Near Large Scale Wind Farms Because Of The Noise
Turbines and farms create noise that other energy sources like solar don’t.
But some newer technology is making noise less of an issue.
Once installed, wind turbines present a potential safety hazard to flying creatures.
There isn’t this problem with solar and some other energy sources.
Especially in residential cases, there seems to be more people who prefer the look of solar panels in and around their homes than windmills and wind turbines
This isn’t as much of an issue though if wind farms are located further away from urban areas where most people live
Demand for wind energy can be sensitive to fossil fuel prices
Wind energy outlook is highly sensitive to natural gas prices, with wind becoming less competitive when gas prices are low [in the US] (insideclimatenews.org)
The impact of this is that there is a stranded investment/asset when this happens
Either the government is spending money on an energy source that can’t always produce energy in a cost efficient manner, or private investors lose a portion of the profit on their investment
Demand for wind energy might decrease when there are is no tax credit support
Some experts support this view, whilst others don’t (insideclimatenews.org)
This situation can be monitored in real time in places where there is significant wind energy in place, and tax credits that get removed.
Wind requires more construction material than nuclear
Solar requires 18 times, and wind 11 times, the construction materials of nuclear (dailymaverick.co.za)
What this means is that there are more resources required in quantity, and there is a bigger waste footprint once wind turbines come to the end of their lifespan.
There’s also the sourcing of these materials to consider, as well as the energy footprint, and other footprints.
Turbines Usually Require Oil, Grease & Other Lubricants
[Oil is for] the blade lubrication points, gearbox and generator (renewableenergyworld.com).
Something to note about this is, if synthetic lubricants are used, then fossil fuels are being used in the lubrication of the wind turbines.
– renewableresourcescoalition.org, insideclimatenews.org, dailymaverick.co.za
Onshore vs Offshore Wind Energy: Comparison
You can read more about the differences of onshore vs offshore wind, and what each is, in this comparison guide.