Ireland to Build World's Largest Wind Farm

Bijal P. Trivedi
National Geographic Today
January 15, 2002

Ireland has approved plans to build the world's largest wind farm on a sandbank just six miles (ten kilometers) offshore from Arklow, a town about 40 miles (70 kilometers) south of Dublin.

The Arklow Sandbank—a sliver of land 15 miles (24 kilometers) long and just more than half a mile (one kilometer) wide—is one of the windiest locations in Ireland and will seat 200 wind turbines. The wind farm is expected to generate about 10 percent of the country's energy needs by the time the project is complete.

The farm will be capable of generating 520 megawatts of electricity.

Currently Europe leads the world in its use of wind power. Denmark generates 15 percent of its energy needs using wind power with Germany and Sweden close behind. By 2020 Denmark expects to generate 50 percent of it power demands using wind.

"In Europe environmental concerns really drive energy policy which then drives the growth of wind power," said Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) in Washington, D.C.

Wind energy also receives far greater government subsidies in Europe than it does in the U.S. "In the United States, subsidies for wind energy amount to hundreds of millions, whereas subsidies for coal and gas run in the billions," said atmospheric scientist Mark Jacobson of Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who is an expert on energy systems.

Currently wind supplies less than one percent of the Unites States' energy needs. But wind is gaining popularity in America, albeit slowly.

Last year the United States spent $1.7 billion installing new wind-generating equipment, half of which supported new wind farms in Texas. This new capacity is enough to supply nearly half a million households and will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide—a leading greenhouse gas—by three million tons and other noxious gases by 27,000 tons, according to the AWEA.

Proponents of wind energy say that it is an emission-free, quiet, and renewable source of energy. And it reduces the country's reliance on foreign oil.

Others argue that wind energy is unpredictable and that the windiest sites in the country—on the Great Plains—are far from coastal regions where the power is needed. Creating a power grid of transmission lines to carry wind-generated power from these sites would be an expensive proposition, said David Keith, of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Jacobson counters that greater numbers of wind farms will produce an almost constant source of power. And, unlike coal and natural gas, there are no fuel-transportation costs.

Currently Cape Wind Associates LLC of Boston has proposed building the country's first offshore wind farm on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound, off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts.

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