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WIND FARMS: A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

WIND FARMS:  A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

Like many, I’m becoming increasingly concerned about the damage we are causing to our environment. Recently, I wrote about plastic pollution and its detrimental effect on the ocean’s ecosystem. But plastic, while immensely damaging, isn’t the only cause for concern. The widespread burning of fossil fuels is not only contributing to global warming, it’s also polluting the environment. Fossil fuels, including petroleum, coal and natural gas, contain high percentages of carbon which can be destructive to the atmosphere as well as the ocean. It’s vital, therefore, that steps are taken to reduce the emissions of such gases.

A round of applause, then, for the Al-Sheqaya Renewable Power Plant in Kuwait. We all know how windy it can be in Kuwait – those desert storms can be fierce – so why not take advantage of it and invest in renewable energy? The picture of the giant wind turbine standing tall in the north west of the state was a sight for sore eyes indeed. At last, a step in the right direction towards cleaner energy and renewable energy products.

Renewable energy is collected from renewable resources, such as sunlight, wind, rain and waves. Solar power may seem the obvious choice for Kuwait and other Middle Eastern countries, but the efficiency of wind farms should not be underestimated.

During my last visit to the UK, I was keen to visit Whitelee Windfarm, the country’s largest onshore wind farm. Since its commission in 2009, the site has been the subject of much controversy. Whilst its supporters are keen to promote the various advantages of its existence, there are those who object to the blot on their otherwise picturesque landscape.

Situated in Scotland, a short drive from Glasgow, Whitelee consists of 215 wind turbines with the capacity to generate power to 300,000 homes. Contrary to the alleged eyesore loathed by many, I found both the sight and size of the estate particularly impressive. The turbines vary in size, the largest being 140 metres tall. The speed of the blade tips can reach 160mph (240kph) and each turbine is capable of producing enough energy to power over 1,000 homes.

So how do they work? The blades of the turbines are carefully shaped and angled to allow the wind to push them around. The air slows down as it passes through the turbine and some of the energy from the moving air is converted into electrical energy. A cable in the tower then carries the electricity from the generator to a transformer. This charges the electricity to a higher voltage before sending it to a substation. Here, the voltage is increased again before being passed to the National Grid through wires supported by pylons. From there, it travels to further substations and, finally, to our individual homes and businesses. Probably the last thing you think about when you switch on your TV or make a cup of tea!

Spread over 20 square miles and with 80 miles of internal roads, Whitelee Windfarm offers a surprising alternative for a family day out. There are 130 kilometres of trails accessible by foot, cycle or horse. There’s a designated mountain bike trail, a number of walking and running circuits varying in length, and a scenic hilltop viewing point. There’s also a picnic area (weather permitting). In fact, far from being an unsightly place to be avoided, it’s the perfect venue for a family day out. It’s also a photographer’s dream, providing an endless series of dramatic backdrops.

Whitelee is also a popular destination for school trips. The Visitor Centre hosts regular science workshops, craft activities and exhibitions. You can stand in their wind tunnel, produce your own electricity with the spin of a wheel and get a bird’s eye view of the wind farm with a virtual reality headset. You can also take a bus tour and learn about the habitat, history and ecology of the site.

Something for the team at Al-Sheqaya to aspire to, perhaps?

A wind farm may not be the obvious place to look for wildlife. However, Whitelee is home to many animals, plants and birds including roe deer, owls, snakes, foxes and otters. Probably not an environment Kuwait is able to replicate but certainly proof that a wind farm can be so much more than just an energy plant.

As for the turbines themselves, it was a treat to get up close and personal with these giant, modern windmills. I was dwarfed by their enormity and hypnotised by their sound; a sound I can only describe as an ‘eerie whoosh’ as the sails sliced through the air. Personally, I’m not averse to the sight of a wind farm. I think they add something mysterious and efficacious to an otherwise latent landscape. And why not take advantage of what nature provides?

From Kuwait’s point of view, whilst oil is not necessary considered a fossil fuel, its finite supply must surely be a concern. The last thing any country should do is become over reliant on one type of electricity generation. The commitment to the development and construction of renewable energy products must therefore continue and any steps taken towards the development of renewable energy plants must be encouraged and embraced. Certainly, the efforts of Al-Sheqaya Renewable Power Plant and Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research are commendable. The desert state is the ideal location to harvest the power of winds, not only because of the vast amount of land lying idle but also the lack of neighbouring properties likely to object.

May the wind of change continue.

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