Wind energy is considered to be a pillar of the low carbon energy system of the future. But whereas social costs of fossil and nuclear energy systems are well documentet, the side effects of wind energy are poorly understood. A review article in the journal Sustainability summarizes the state of knowledge and formulates open questions for future research.
6 December 2022
On 5 December 2022 the Journal Sustainability has published the review article „Side Effects of Wind Energy: Review of Three Topics—Status and Open Questions”. The authors are André D. Thess, Professor of Energy Storage at the University of Stuttgart and Director of the Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics at the German Aerospace Center DLR and Dr. Philipp Lengsfeld, CEO of re:look climate gGmbH. The authors document the state of the art on the influence of wind rotors on insect populations, on the distribution of flow, temperature and precipitation as well as the effects of sound emissions on human health. The article was peer-reviewed by three independent and anonymous referees and is freely accessible under the open-access scheme here.
The side effects of coal and nuclear power plants are well understood. These effects are denoted as „social costs“ and are often expressed in US Dollar or Euro per kilowatt hours. In public communication they are often added to the electricity price so as to reflect “true costs” of coal and nuclear power. By contrast there are very few studies investigating the social costs of solar and wind energy. The paper by Thess and Lengsfeld is the attempt to document the state of research on three side effects of wind energy: The damage to flying insects, the influence on local and regional weather and climate events and finally the question of the dimension of the effects of noise emissions, especially infrasound, on people in the vicinity of wind turbines.
In the first part of their review the authors discuss an earlier study that was performed at the German Aerospace Center DLR to estimate the mass of insects killed by wind rotors per year in a given region. The possible dimension of this undeniable unwanted side effect is discussed and research to clarify this issue is proposed. The authors describe the research activities that would be necessary to evaluate the parameters that would enable a reliable estimate of insect loss due to wind power.
The second part of the work provides an overview of measurement campaigns and numerical simulations that investigate the changes in flow velocity, temperature and precipitation in the wake of wind farms. The state of literature demonstrates a conspicuous lack of coordinated international measurement campaigns which could be used to evaluate the possible reduction in moisture behind wind farms.
In the third part of the work the sound emission from wind rotors are described and publications are reviewed which investigate the sound influence on human health. The state of literature suggests that future holistic investigations on human health must go beyond frequency analysis of perception thresholds.
The review paper represents a rational framework for future research programs aimed at a better understanding of side effects of wind energy. Such research could contribute to put public debate on a scientific basis and develop strategies that minimize these effects and their social costs.
Prof. Dr. André D. Thess is Professor of Energy Storage at the University of Stuttgart and Director of the Institute of Engineering Thermodynamics at the German Aerospace Cenber DLR, E-Mail: email@example.com
Dr. Philipp Lengsfeld is the scientific director of re:look climate gGmbH, Institute of Climate and Environmental Sciences, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org