Although the return on building new turbines would eventually plateau, that point, which they dubbed saturation wind power potential, won't be reached until there are more turbines than will be needed. That saturation point is more than 250 terawatts, which would require 100-meter-tall wind turbines covering the planet's land and water surfaces.
"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," said Jacobson in a press release. "The potential is there, if we can build enough turbines."
The researchers estimated that half the world's energy needs in 2030 would take about 5.75 terawatts. To figure out how many turbines would be required to meet that amount, the team looked at different scenarios of fixed wind power potential, or the maximum power that can be extracted using a specific number of wind turbines. They found that 4 million 100-feet-high turbines, each producing 5 megawatts, could supply as much as 7.5 terawatts of power, with no significant effect on the world's climate. If half were sited on water, and half sited on land, they would occupy about one-half of 1 percent of the planet's land surface.
Funding for the study came from the National Science Foundation, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration High-End Computing Program.
Ann, this is an interesting study. The issue, of course, is reliability. Will the power be there when you need it? Wind and solar, and many other new and environmentally friendly forms of power generation, are opportunistic sources. They work today because they are adjunct to our traditional base load generation capability. To really utilize these sources we would have to redesign our whole power infrastructure. This can be done, and might have some good consequences. On the other hand, we know we can deliver reliable power with the current architecture. The required transition is massive. It is much more complex than installing wind turbines.
Thanks, Lou. The study took into account wind variability, and calculated that for each turbine, as we mention. I think there are several issues here, but the reliability you mention has to do with either energy storage, a different topic, or how closely spaced turbines are to their neighbors, not with whether there's enough total wind power. Assuming the math is correct and the model is accurate, the study has shown that there is, and that was its purpose. I agree that we need to redesign our energy infrastructure and that it will be a massive transition. Alternate forms of energy are being used today only as adjuncts because they have to be, based on the generation and distribution infrastructure's current design and implementation.
I believe the extrapolations of power estimates by the researchers, and embrace the idea that harnessing the wind “everywhere” would indeed provide their claimed totals. But “everywhere” includes smack in the middle of the deepest oceans, thousands of miles from land, causing two engineering challenges. One, stability of the turbine (floating, or fixed) and Two, transmitting the harvested power from source to destination. While those might seem to be staggering obstacles, they’re no more challenging than it was to create any of our current infrastructures (cellular, power lines, roadways, railways, etc.) when they were first conceived.
Jim, I think your point is well taken about what it took to create the existing infrastructure: we managed to do that one, why not this one? Regarding location, as the article states, the researchers weren't suggesting that we put turbines everywhere. They made that assumption for mathematical purposes when calculating total power available. Once they found that total power available was way more than needed, they tested several scenarios. They propose that turbines could be placed half on land and half in the ocean, primarily in near-shore and offshore locations.
I agree, naperlou. The transition is a gargantuan engineering challenge. For now, the national labs and Electric Power Research Institute are saying that the challange will start when we reach 20% renewables. This is the first time, though, in which I've seen someone examine whether we have enough available wind on earth to make the dream happen. Great story, Ann.
The article does mention one of the concerns about wind power in regards to altering of climate and wind turbulence and speed. This would be one of my main concerns. The Colorado River used to pour extreme amounts of water into the Gulf of California. Now after multiple dams and water usage projects, the river trickles into the Gulf and sometimes dries up before reaching its natural end. Hopefully this does not happen to our wind usage.
I like the cautionary tale of the Colorado River. I think the main innovation here is the ability to provide such a detailed computer model on a global scale. This should have significant ramifications for weather modeling. On a related note, just about any one of the currently popular renewables could probably claim to solve the world's energy needs. Add up all the sunshine that falls on earth each day. Even with modest recovery - I'll bet our energy needs are covered. Likely you'd get a similar result examining wave, tidal or sea current power. As many have noted, energy shortage isn't the issue it's energy distribution.
I disagree, it won't be a huge challenge as utilities already solve this every day. Look at demand variability, which is basically the same thing as supply variability. Yet they easily handle that every day by a factor of 5 many times from low demand to peak.
Next hydro, new NG units that can vary/throttle 50% power with good eff coupled with demand control especially once EV's are widespread, this gets rather easy and can be done with cellphone links.
What happens when a 1Gw nuke scrams? It happens all the time cuting 1Gw from the grid yet rarely is there a blackout. 50 or so of these/yr judging from the reports in PennEnergy which tracks energy of all forms. If you were really concerned these would be far more problematic than WT's as they ramp up and down even in close, dense windfarms.
We already have $1/kwhr/yr storage using lead or molten salts, yet where are they? Facts are they are not needed.
Best by far wind isn't wind farms, which really are investment vehicles first, energy sources are a byproduct, but in home, building size units which make/save retail electric costs which are 2-3x's what a utility pays because of utility markup.
Plus as these are very spread out they never all go down but instead average nicely.
An example a 13' dia WT puts out about 10-40kwhrs/day and lighter, more simple than a moped in many places. No reason these can't be made, installed for under $2k/kw and last 50 yrs or so if done right. And that's all an eff home needs.
For big wind along the east coast match the A/C loads near perfectly. As the land warms up, the seabreeze picks up the power does too. Solar does this too making it more valuable than steady power like nukes that can't be turned off. Yet they don't pay what it's really worth they pay other Time of Day/peak sources.
Most of the misinformation has been spread by big coal trying to hang on to their rapidly decreasing power share now down to 32% from 60% and others who know little about how a grid works.
The problems the Colorado River faces are man-made. Manifest Destiny, rapid urban expansion, etc, have endangered multiple rivers in the Western US and around the world.
I think this study shows that if we think sustainably, we can harvest energy from the sun and wind intelligently to meet our needs. Areas of the country are well known for wind-Chicago, Southern California, The Great Plains, for example. Many areas of the country are well known for almost year-round sun-Arizona, Hawaii, Texas, for example.
The first Tacoma Narrows Bridge was a Washington State suspension bridge that opened in 1940 and spanned the Tacoma Narrows strait of Puget Sound between Tacoma and the Kitsap Peninsula. It opened to traffic on July 1, 1940, and dramatically collapsed into Puget Sound on November 7, just four months after it opened.
Noting that we now live in an era of “confusion and ill-conceived stuff,” Ammunition design studio founder Robert Brunner, speaking at Gigaom Roadmap, said that by adding connectivity to everything and its mother, we aren't necessarily doing ourselves any favors, with many ‘things’ just fine in their unconnected state.
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