A new study conducted by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has found that there is more than enough power in our planet’s winds to be a primary source of near zero emissions, but that also the power generation necessary to support current and future demand would not substantially affect the climate.
Climate scientists and collaborators who studied the geophysical limits to global wind power published their findings in the journal Nature Climate Change.
“The future of wind energy is likely to be determined by economic, political and technical constraints rather than geophysical limits,” said Kate Marvel, lead author of the paper and a scientist in the Laboratory’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison.
The study set out to determine the limits of the amount of power that could be harvested from the winds, as well as what the affects such generation would have on the surrounding environment.
Understandably, adding more and more wind farms only works up to a point, before the amount of wind reaching the latest row of turbines is simply not strong enough to generate any movement out of the turbine’s blades.
Marvel, along with Ben Kravitz and Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology, used a climate model to estimate the amount of power that can be produced from both near-surface and high-altitude winds.
They found that wind turbines placed on the Earth’s surface could extract kinetic energy at a rate of at least 400 terawatts, while high-altitude wind power could extract more than 1800 terawatts.
For comparison, current total global power demand is only 18 terawatts.
In terms of the affect on the climate, if we aimed to be extracting 2200 terawatts out of our planet’s winds, we’d definitely end up causing some climate problems, but for meeting current and even future demand, there are small impacts as long as the turbines are spread out and not clustered in just a few regions. At the level of global energy demand, wind turbines might affect surface temperatures by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit and affect precipitation by about 1 percent, overall, unsubstantial impacts.
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