Global warming reduces available wind energy

November 9, 2010

A switch to wind energy will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions -- and reduce the global warming they cause. But there's a catch, says climate researcher Diandong Ren, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin in a paper appear in the AIP's Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy: rising temperatures decrease wind speeds, making for less power bang for the wind turbine buck.

The prevailing winds in the "free" atmosphere about 1,000 meters above the ground are maintained by a temperature gradient that decreases toward the poles. "For example, Wichita, Kansas is cooler, in general, than Austin, Texas," Ren says. "The stronger the temperature contrast, the stronger the wind." But as the climate changes and global temperatures rise, the temperature contrast between the lower latitudes and the poles decreases slightly, because polar regions tend to warm up faster. And as that temperature contrast becomes weaker, so too do the winds.

Wind turbines are powered by winds at lower altitudes -- about 100 meters above the ground -- where, Ren says, "frictional effects from local topography and landscapes further influence wind speed and direction. In my study, I assume that these effects are constant -- like a constant filter -- so wind speed changes in the free atmosphere are representative of that in the frictional layer."

Ren calculates that a 2-4 degree Celsius increase in temperatures in Earth's mid to high-latitudes would result in a 4-12 percent decrease in wind speeds in certain high northern latitudes. This means, he says, that with "everything else being the same, we need to invest in more to gain the same amount of energy. will still be plentiful and wind energy still profitable, but we need to tap the energy source earlier" -- before there is less to tap.

Explore further: Global wind map identifies wind power potential

More information: The article, "Effects of global warming on wind energy availability" by Diandong Ren appears in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy. See:

Related Stories

Global wind map identifies wind power potential

May 16, 2005

A new global wind power map has quantified global wind power and may help planners place turbines in locations that can maximize power from the winds and provide widely available low-cost energy. After analyzing more than ...

Engineer aims to regulate varying wind power

October 19, 2007

As Texas' electric grid operator prepares to add power lines for carrying future wind-generated energy, an electrical engineer at The University of Texas at Austin is developing improved methods for determining the extent ...

Ocean Wind Power Maps Reveal Possible Wind Energy Sources

July 9, 2008

Efforts to harness the energy potential of Earth's ocean winds could soon gain an important new tool: global satellite maps from NASA. Scientists have been creating maps using nearly a decade of data from NASA's QuikSCAT ...

Smart wind turbines can predict the wind

January 5, 2010

Risø DTU researchers have recently completed the world’s first successful test on a wind turbine with a laser-based anemometer built into the spinner in order to increase electricity generation.

Recommended for you

US ends bulk collection of phone data

November 30, 2015

The US government has halted its controversial program to collect vast troves of information from Americans' phone calls, a move prompted by the revelations of former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.