Wind energy can power the world, says two new studies

The potential is there, if we can build enough wind turbines,” said co-author of the PNAS study Mark Z. Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineer at Stanford.

Wind power is up to the challenge of providing more-than-enough energy for global society, according to two new and unrelated studies.

Both studies, one published in Nature Climate Change and the other in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that wind power from surface winds alone could produce hundreds of terrawatts (TW) meanwhile current global society uses around 18 TW.

“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.

Jacobson’s study Debunking concerns about the efficacy of wind power on a global scale, Jacobson employed complex computer modeling to find that while its true every additional wind turbine reduces the energy capacity of others, the reduction is not large enough to be a concern for global energy needs even when millions of wind turbines are operating worldwide simultaneously. Co-author Cristina Archer, with the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, University of Delaware, called this discovery “very important.”

The other study in Nature Climate Change found that 400 TW of power could be produced by surface wind turbines alone. However, harnessing atmospheric winds could produce another 1,800 TW, around 100 times the amount currently used by global society. Atmospheric winds could be harnessed by kites with turbines built in.

“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,” co-author Ken Caldeira, a climatologist with Carnegie, said. Powering the world with wind would produce some environmental impacts, but far less than fossil fuels. Calderia’s study found that powering the world solely with wind energy could reduce precipitation by 1 percent and raise temperatures by 0.1 degrees Celsius, but oil, coal, and gas.

However it’s clear from both of the studies that wind has the capacity to produce all the energy global society requires. Combined with other renewable energies, such as solar, geothermal, and tidal energy, wind could prove a major energy player in a post-fossil fuel world.

Kate Marvel, Ben Kravitz, and Ken Caldeira. Geophysical limits to global wind power. Nature Climate Change. DOI: 10.1038.

Mark Z. Jacobson and Cristina L. Archer. Saturation wind power potential and its implications for wind energy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).