Wind energy is the process by which the wind is used to generate mechanical power or electricity. People have been using energy from the wind for hundreds of years to pump water or grind grain. Today, we use a wind turbines to generate electricity. Wind power has a relatively high output, but only a fraction of its potential is currently used. Wind power plants cannot produce power on demand—their output depends on how hard the wind blows. So, wind power is often used as a supplement to other power sources. Wind power plants are also not feasible for all geographical locations. For example, very cold areas may not be ideal for wind power because of a small chance for ice being thrown off the turbine blades.
Wind is a form of solar energy. The sun’s radiation heats different parts of the Earth at different rates—most notably during the day and night—influenced by the shape of the planet’s terrain, bodies of water, and vegetation. Hot air rises, reducing the atmospheric pressure at the Earth’s surface, and cooler air is drawn in to replace it. The result is wind.
Wind energy does not produce harmful greenhouse gases or waste products. According to the American Wind Energy Association, wind reduces emissions. One modern turbine could prevent 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere in the US each year.
Wind turbines may pose a threat to birds and bats. Areas that are home to endangered species should not be considered suitable for the development of wind power plants. But overall, wind turbines pose a far smaller threat to birds and bats than buildings, cars and predatory animals (for example, house cats are believed to kill 1 billion birds every year in the US alone!).