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.
My cat just ate my post, so I will try to reconstruct it.
In a nutshell, whatever you have in mind, the government will destroy it like they have so many other good ideas.
First, the technology is there are nearly so to put big power stations in the sky to produce the power. I will go along with that. But the financing isn't. The Fed has no money and hasn't for a generation. Their credit is running out, and our great-grandchildren just can't afford any more boondoggles.
Wind power has to be a viable business with minimal regulation and taxation to make it attractive. We all need power, but look at your electric bill and see where your money goes- it ain't all going to the power company. Obama is trying to shut down crucial sections of our power generating sector, coal, for no viable reason other than, "Hey, I'm a socialist! We do these things just because we can." So what is to keep him and the next Dear Leader from shutting this down as soon as a sparrow gets a headache from the turbines? Nothing.
So, if elected Ipromise large-scale wind power cannot succeed in today's fascist government style. We need to keep Washington out of it, and maybe we can stand a chance of using the wind for something other than making promises and getting reelected.
Jerry raises an interesting point I also keep wondering about: why the heck don't we have much better small-scale--house- or store-sized, for example--wind generation units? I think the answer should be pretty obvious: utilities as middlemen. The utilities fought tooth and nail for 30 years or so to prevent homes from generating their own solar power.
Folks, I already clarified that "without regard to..." etc. about turbine placement had to do with the initial model building, not suggested placement of turbines. 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. We state this in the article.
I think the phrase "without regard to societal, environmental, climatic or economic considerations" is key. "One-half of 1 percent of the planet's land surface" sounds small, until you realize just how big the total land surface of the earth is.
The earth has about 150,000,000 square kilometers of land, so 0.5% of that is 750,000 square kilometers (about 185,000,000 acres). To put this in perspective, this is nearly 5 times more than the total paved area of the United States.
The societal, environmental, climatic, and economic costs of covering this much land area with wind turbines would be huge.
While this study does show that it would be possible to meet all of the world's energy needs using wind power, it also suggests why that it is unlikely to happen in reality. That being said, wind power could provide a larger fraction of the world's total energy than it currenty does.
@Tim- you know, that was a point in the article I really did not understand -- how excessive turbines could affect the climate. Your example of damming the Colorado River made sense as it restricted water flow, but I need some more schooling on how excessive windmills would affect the climate. Who has a layman's explanation-?
@Jerry - I agree that managing/brokering power is a common practice – actually routine to the big electric companies; I have a friend who manages the grid at FLORIDA POWER & LIGHT & he told me they re-rout GigaWatts along trunk-lines as far away as Tennessee & Ohio. It's a daily occurrence.
Scott, I agree, the big difference here is the detailed model and its scale, which provides more data. I also think the big deal is the ingenuity of the researchers in deciding what to do with that data in the various scenarios. And I've seen similar claims about solar power that are hard to argue with.
I like the question about turbulence and redirecting currents. Have there been any studies on what happens when that much wind energy is harvested? The resource looks bottomless, but energy isn't free and some of that energy may be needed for the weather engine to spin properly.
Renewable energy sources are widely distributed and much less concentrated than current point-sources (Steam). The payback on building the infrastructure necessary for a widely distributed low density power grid is less than marginal at present day tolerable rates. I agree, the problem isn't generation, it is distribution.
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