Wind Energy Could Meet Global Demand 20–100 Times Over, New Study Finds

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All of the world’s energy needs could be provided for solely by wind power, according to new research from the Carnegie Institute and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.


The winds are capable of providing more than enough energy to meet all of the world’s demands. The potential of atmospheric turbines is a part of that, capable of converting the much faster and steadier high-altitude winds into electricity (rather than ground- and ocean-based units).

The new research from the Carnegie Institute investigates what the actual limits of wind power are; how much could potentially be harvested; and what the effects of such large-scale, high-altitude wind power would be — could they affect the whole climate themselves?
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The research was led by Kate Marvel of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, who had begun this research while working at Carnegie. The research team quantified the possible amount of power that could be generated using both surface and atmospheric winds with the aid of computer models. They defined the surface winds as the ones that could be exploited by towers (possibly higher than those currently available) on land or at sea, while the high-altitude winds were considered to be those that would only be accessible by using technology that merges turbines and kites. The only factors considered in the study were the geophysical limitations of these techniques, no economic or technical difficulties were factored in.

“Turbines create drag, or resistance, which removes momentum from the winds and tends to slow them. As the number of wind turbines increase, the amount of energy that is extracted increases. But at some point, the winds would be slowed so much that adding more turbines will not generate more electricity. This study focused on finding the point at which energy extraction is highest,” a news release on the study reported.

“Using models, the team was able to determine that more than 400 terrawatts of power could be extracted from surface winds and more than 1,800 terrawatts could be generated by winds extracted throughout the atmosphere.”

Present civilization needs around 18 TW of power. Even if limited to only near-surface winds, enough power could be generated to create 20 times more electricity than the current global power use. When you factor in high-altitude wind turbines, you could potentially generate more than 100 times the current global power demand, just by using wind, nothing else.

Interestingly, the researchers found that “at maximum levels of power extraction, there would be substantial climate effects to wind harvesting. But the climate effects of extracting wind energy at the level of current global demand would be small, as long as the turbines were spread out and not clustered in just a few regions.”

If all of our energy was provided by wind power, the wind turbines would change surface temperatures by around 0.1 degree Celsius and alter precipitation levels by around 1%. The researchers think that these would not be substantial environmental impacts.

“Looking at the big picture, it is more likely that economic, technological or political factors will determine the growth of wind power around the world, rather than geophysical limitations,” Caldeira said.

The research was just published on September 9th in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Source: Carnegie Institution
Image Credits: Sky Windpower; Wind Sunset via Wikimedia Commons

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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