December 17th, 2010 by Joshua S Hill
The benefit of wind turbines is going to be a very long debate that carries on for many years, but new research led by a researcher at the US Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory and his co-researcher from the University of Colorado could swing the balance of discussions just a little bit.
According to the months-long research project, wind turbines could have a benefit for the growing of crops.
“We’ve finished the first phase of our research, and we’re confident that wind turbines do produce measureable effects on the microclimate near crops,” said Ames Laboratory associate and agricultural meteorology expert Gene Takle.
Takle, a professor of agricultural meteorology and director of the Climate Science Program at Iowa State University, found that the slow-moving blades of the wind turbine not only generate electricity, but also channel air downwards, which in turn effectively bathes the crops below in a cooler moving air current.
While the findings are preliminary and have not yet definitively established whether wind turbines will benefit crops in the long term and help the health and yield potential, the findings are promising.
“The turbulence resulting from wind turbines may speed up natural exchange processes between crop plants and the lower atmosphere,” Takle said. For example, the increased flow of air could help speed up the natural heat exchange and allow the crops to stay slightly cooler on hot days and slightly warmer at night. “In this case, we anticipate turbines’ effects are good in the spring and fall because they would keep the crop a little warmer and help prevent a frost,” said Takle. “Wind turbines could possibly ward off early fall frosts and extend the growing season.”
Other benefits could include minimizing the moisture levels and thus decreasing the time in which fungi and toxins can grow on plant leaves; the increased air flow could keep the crops dryer, thus reducing the need for artificial drying after the crops are harvested.
“We anticipate the impact of wind turbines to be subtle. But in certain years and under certain circumstances the effects could be significant,” said Takle. “When you think about a summer with a string of 105-degree days, extra wind turbulence from wind turbines might be helpful. If turbines can bring the temperature down below 100 degrees that could be a big help for crops.”
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