With Sufficient Turbines, Wind Could Power the World

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted September 17, 2012

Researchers from Stanford’s School of Engineering and the University of Delaware have emerged with some provocative findings that suggest there is adequate wind both over land and near shorelines to provide half of the world’s power needs. What’s more; there is actually enough wind to exceed demand several times over, factoring for systemic reductions in wind speeds as a result of turbine operations.

And all this would be possible, according to the ultra-sophisticated weather models they used, within the next twenty years.

The findings were published in the high-profile Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Professors Mark Z. Jacobson (Stanford) and Cristina Archer (University of Delaware).

The team used a 3-D computer model in the study called GATOR-GCMOM. The study assumed that wind turbines can be installed anywhere, disregarding social, economic, environmental, or climate conditions. The objective was to figure out the theoretical maximum wind power available to our planet after factoring for turbine-caused wind speed reductions.

The new study refutes earlier research that suggested a proliferation of wind turbines would spread energy too thin, effectively reducing the wind potential. Part of the reason could be that Jacobson and Archer’s research separates atmospheric winds into stacks of hypothetical boxes. Each box relates to a specific wind speed and weather variation. Individual turbines were then exposed to a mix of these boxes. This is a degree of finesse the older studies simply couldn’t achieve.

Overall, the research indicates that we have hundreds of terawatts of wind potential, although at a certain point returns will plateau; the team calls this the saturation wind power potential. Presently, that potential is somewhat higher than 250 terawatts, assuming we have 100m-tall turbines over the entire land and water of our planet.

From Energy Harvesting Journal:

“We’re not saying, ‘Put turbines everywhere,’ but we have shown that there is no fundamental barrier to obtaining half or even several times the world’s all-purpose power from wind by 2030. The potential is there, if we can build enough turbines,” said Jacobson.

Based on these basic findings, the team calculated that half of the world’s energy demand equates to around 5.75 terawatts. We could have 4 million turbines, the team estimated, resulting in 7.5 terawatts of power harvested, without much environmental harm. The team proposed 2 million over water, and the others placed over a half of a percent of Earth’s land surface.

This could be good news for companies like Vestas (CPH: VWS), which has seen slowed demand as nations pare back subsidies.

The studies were funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. EPA, and NASA’s High-End Computing Program.

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