Surprise, surprise! A new report, published in Nature Climate Change, says that there is a form of renewable energy that can meet the needs of the global energy demand. Scientists have found, led by Kate Marvel of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, that there is enough surface-level winds (those that can be accessed by turbines supported by towers on land or rising out of the sea) to create 400 terawatts of electricity and even another 1800 terawatts if high-altitude winds (those that can be accessed by technology merging turbines and kites) are considered.
Unimpressed? Consider this: Currently, everyone on the planet uses 18 terawatts. That means wind power has the potential to create 22 times the energy we currently use from surface-level winds alone! And if you consider the high-altitude winds then 100 times the current global demand of power could be harvested.
Science Daily reports about the environmental benefits:
At maximum levels of power extraction, there would be substantial climate effects to wind harvesting. But the study found that 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. At the level of global energy demand, wind turbines might affect surface temperatures by about 0.1 degree Celsius and affect precipitation by about 1%. Overall, the environmental impacts would not be substantial.
But it is not all peaches and rainbows. Marvel, who co-authored the study with Ken Caldeira and Ben Kravitz of the Carnegie Institution for Science, also divulged that the study looked at what amount of energy could be harvested potentially, not what could practically be harvested. Her team only looked at the geophysical capacity of wind energy and did not take into consideration the economic and political factors.
Another recent study by Mark Jacobson of Stanford University and Cristina Archer of the University of Delaware, whose study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, mimics the sentiments of Caldeira and her team. Jacobson and Archer write in their study: “The available wind resources are much larger than that needed to supply the world’s power. This renewable resource could easily satisfy the global human energy demand.”
And lest you assume wind power is an easy and cheap solution for our pending energy crisis, consider that Jacobson and Archer estimate that it would take about 4 million turbines operating at a height of 300 feet to provide for more than half of the world’s power demands. The authors propose that half the turbines be on the land in high-wind areas around the planet (e.g., Gobi Desert, the American Great Plains or the Sahara Desert) and half be on the oceans. would be on land and half on oceans.
While it may seem idealistic to hope that we, as a planet, can transition into a wind-powered civilization, it’s hard not to be optimistic with the findings from these studies. Keeping in mind how much we can potentially help our environment by opting for wind power makes the financial aspect trivial.