Model shows wind could meet many times world's total power demand by 2030

Sep 10, 2012
A wind farm in South Australia

In 2030, if all energy is converted to clean energy, humans will consume about eleven-and-a-half terawatts of power every year, all sources combined. If there is to be a clean-energy economy based on renewable energy, wind power will no doubt have to help meet much of that demand.

In a new study, researchers at Stanford University's School of Engineering and the University of Delaware developed the most sophisticated available to show that not only is there plenty of wind over land and near to shore to provide half the world's power, but there is enough to exceed total demand by several times if need be, even after accounting for reductions in caused by turbines.

The findings were published in the (PNAS) by Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and Cristina Archer, an associate professor of geography and physical and engineering at the University of Delaware.

High resolution models

In their study, Jacobson and Archer adapted the three-dimensional, atmosphere-ocean-land computer model known as GATOR-GCMOM to calculate the theoretical maximum potential on the planet taking into account wind reduction by turbines. Their model assumed wind turbines could be installed anywhere and everywhere, without regard to societal, environmental, climatic, or economic considerations.

The new paper contradicts two earlier studies that said wind potential falls far short of the aggressive goal because each turbine steals too much wind energy from other turbines, and that turbines introduce harmful climate consequences that would negate some of the positive aspects of renewable wind energy.

The new model provides a more sophisticated look than previously possible by separating winds in the atmosphere into hypothetical boxes stacked atop and beside one another. Each box has its own wind speed and weather. In their model, Jacobson and Archer exposed individual turbines to winds from several boxes at once, a degree of resolution earlier global models did not match.

"Modeling the climate consequences of wind turbines is complex science," said Jacobson. "This software allows that level of detail for the first time."

With a single model, the researchers were able to calculate the exposure of each wind turbine in the model to winds that vary in space and time. Additionally, the model extracts the correct amount of energy from the wind that gets claimed by the turbines, reducing the wind speed accordingly while conserving energy. It then calculates the effect of these wind speed changes on global temperatures, moisture, clouds and climate.

Potential aplenty

Among the most promising things the researchers learned is that there is a lot of potential in the wind—hundreds of terawatts. At some point, however, the return on building new turbines plateaus, reaching a level in which no additional energy can be extracted even with the installation of more turbines.

"Each reduces the amount of energy available for others," Archer said. The reduction, however, becomes significant only when large numbers of turbines are installed, many more than would ever be needed.

"And that's the point that was very important for us to find," Archer said.

The researchers have dubbed this point the saturation wind power potential. The saturation potential, they say, is more than 250 terawatts if we could place an army of 100-meter-tall wind turbines across the entire land and water of planet Earth. Alternatively, if we place them only on land (minus Antarctica) and along the coastal ocean there is still some 80 terawatts available—about seven times the total power demand of all civilization. Hypothetical turbines operating in the jet streams six miles up in the atmosphere could extract as much as an additional 380 terawatts.

"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. The potential is there, if we can build enough turbines," said Jacobson.

How many?

Knowing that the potential exists, the researchers turned their attention to how many turbines would be needed to meet half the world's power demand—about 5.75 terawatts—in a 2030 clean-. To get there, they explored various scenarios of what they call the fixed wind power potential—the maximum power that can be extracted using a specific number of .

Archer and Jacobson showed that four million, five-megawatt turbines operating at a height of 100 meters could supply as much 7.5 terawatts of power—well more than half the world's all-purpose power demand—without significant negative affect on the climate.

"We have a long way to go. Today, we have installed a little over one percent of the wind power needed," said Jacobson.

In terms of surface area, Jacobson and Archer would site half the four million turbines over water. The remaining two million would require a little more than one-half of one percent of the Earth's land surface—about half the area of the State of Alaska. However, virtually none of this area would be used solely for wind, but could serve dual purposes as open space, farmland, ranchland, or wildlife preserve.

Rather than put all the turbines in a single location, Archer and Jacobson say it is best and most efficient to spread out wind farms in high-wind sites across the globe—the Gobi Desert, the American plains and the Sahara for example.

"The careful siting of wind farms will minimize costs and the overall impacts of a global wind infrastructure on the environment," said Jacobson. "But, as these results suggest, the saturation of power availability will not limit a clean-energy economy."

Explore further: US urged to drop India WTO case on solar

More information: Read also: Enough wind to power global energy demand, new research says

"Saturation wind power potential and its implications for wind energy," by Mark Z. Jacobson and Cristina L. Archer, PNAS, 2012.

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User comments : 22

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Shootist
2.1 / 5 (14) Sep 10, 2012
And kill every bird, bat and flying critter in the process.
gmurphy
2.7 / 5 (6) Sep 10, 2012
Wind energy is variable, the only way to counter this is to create a true superconducting energy distribution grid which can efficiently route the wind energy from different turbine farms around the globe. That's the real challenge. Once that infrastructure is in place, all other forms of renewable could contribute to the global grid.
xen_uno
1.7 / 5 (11) Sep 10, 2012
Amen shootist ... and the noisy ugly SOB's everywhere. Half the state of Alaska sure. More like an area the size of Alaska once the ocean going ones start breaking down all the time. Salt water, high winds, and waves will beat the chit out of them and the connecting power lines in no time ... plus pollution from the inevitable oil leaks from each turbine ... and again .. sight pollution. So this is defo a bad idea and I'd bet this Jacobson must be gunning for an Obama cabinet position. Hopefully the mofo won't be around past November to hire him.
pauljpease
3.3 / 5 (7) Sep 10, 2012
Amen shootist ... and the noisy ugly SOB's everywhere. Half the state of Alaska sure. More like an area the size of Alaska once the ocean going ones start breaking down all the time. Salt water, high winds, and waves will beat the chit out of them and the connecting power lines in no time ... plus pollution from the inevitable oil leaks from each turbine ... and again .. sight pollution. So this is defo a bad idea and I'd bet this Jacobson must be gunning for an Obama cabinet position. Hopefully the mofo won't be around past November to hire him.


You're right, we can't stand unsightly wind turbines! Better to depend on sources of energy that will run out over the next hundred years, throwing civilization into a new dark age.
xen_uno
2.4 / 5 (11) Sep 10, 2012
You're right ... the government can subsidize (with borrowed money from future generations) a technology that is unstable (power generation wise), expensive, environmentally damaging, and fraught with technical, reliability difficulties on the scale this article outlines. You think the masses can afford the electricity if wind were solely relied upon per article? This utopian energy scheme is as whimsical as the cities of the future imagined in 1950's sci-fi movies. The dark ages are coming no matter what as consequence of a species that can't seem to control it's population, and whose land, water, and energy needs will eventually strip the planet bare.
carlvtgilbert
5 / 5 (3) Sep 10, 2012
Looks like good science giving us data/insights. Ill reserve the right to say if wind energy is the best or even near best solution energy solution.
kochevnik
1 / 5 (4) Sep 10, 2012
Wind energy is variable, the only way to counter this is...
Only if you're too cheap to fix you electric car and never replace the battery, AND your state has no water at all for hydro storage.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (2) Sep 10, 2012
humans will consume about eleven-and-a-half terawatts of power every year


It's amazing how often power and energy are confused.
Eric_B
2.3 / 5 (6) Sep 10, 2012
all electric lighting is mandated LED in Europe.

LED bulbs dim out to 50% in 7-12 years.

They pay for themselves in 1-2 years.

They run at less than 50% of what fluorescent use.

We in the US will take decades to adopt them...not until they are the same price as a happy meal!
VendicarD
4 / 5 (4) Sep 10, 2012
"It's amazing how often power and energy are confused." - Trekgeek1

Yes. In another thread, ParkerTard not only confused power with energy but he also subtracted the total energy needed to make a wind turbine from it's yearly output and tried to use that figure as the effective yearly output of the device for all time.

Dishonesty of that kind only succeeds where there is grand stupidity.
VendicarD
2.4 / 5 (5) Sep 10, 2012
The U.S. is a backward country and a follower.

Other nations lead. America reluctantly follows. It is the Conservative way...

"We in the US will take decades to adopt them...not until they are the same price as a happy meal!" - Eric_B
djr
4.2 / 5 (6) Sep 11, 2012
"This utopian energy scheme is as whimsical as the cities of the future imagined in 1950's sci-fi movies."

Always a flurry of nay sayers on every alternative energy article. The irony is - meantime the world moves forward - and renewable energy is becoming a part of our reality. Here is a good article on South Australia - and how they are integrating up to 60% of wind into their energy mix - and it is not breaking the bank - and it is still very early days on this journey. Sad that there is such lack of vision - and determination to detract from progress.... http://cleantechn...-graphs/
kochevnik
1 / 5 (2) Sep 11, 2012
You're right ... the government can subsidize (with borrowed money from future generations) a technology that is unstable (power generation wise)
I agree fusion is far off.
Midcliff
3 / 5 (4) Sep 11, 2012
"plus pollution from the inevitable oil leaks from each turbine ."

riiiight. better to just burn the oil directly. and forget about all the new jobs needed to make the turbines. the oil barrons must survive.
antialias_physorg
3.2 / 5 (6) Sep 11, 2012
And kill every bird, bat and flying critter in the process.

Go off shore. No birds, bats or flying critters. Problem solved.
Go high altitude. No birds, bats or flying critters there. Problem solved.

Wind energy is variable

Get some decent storage. That is a key to any alternative energy scheme. And there are many possible solutions out there.

Go off shore or high altitude. Winds are much less variable, Especially in jet strems wind variability is very low. Get a national power grid. Many countries have already managed to do that. It's not THAT hard. The larger your grid the less storage (as a percentage of total energy use) is required.

Always a flurry of nay sayers on every alternative energy article.

It's the industrialist version of the 50 cent army at work.
praos
1.7 / 5 (11) Sep 11, 2012
Some back of envelope calculations. Earth receives about 10e17 W from the sun. If about 10% of that is absorbed in the atmosphere, it makes 10e16 W. If all this heat is used to circulate the atmosphere with temperature difference of 10K, this gives about 300 TW for ideal Carnot cycle -- if we take the planet to be an ideal thermodynamic machine. For real, highly imperfect system, even 10% of this value is highly improbable. Add to this imperfections of the wind turbines themselves... So all these very sophisticated estimations could not pass even this simple, common sense muster.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (4) Sep 11, 2012
Some back of envelope calculations. Earth receives about 10e17 W from the sun. If about 10% of that is absorbed in the atmosphere,

here's a graph of the Earth's radiation budget by NASA
http://asd-www.la...rgy.html

...which gives an outright absorption of the atmosphere on the order of 20% of incident solar radiation.

Add to that that 7% of radiation reemitted from the ground is also absorbed by the atmosphere and you see that your 'simple common sense muster' is off base (also we're not dealing with a carnot cycle - certainly not one with a 10K difference. Wherever do you get THAT number from?)

Yeah. If you invent numbers stuff will not match. What else is new?

VendicarD
not rated yet Sep 11, 2012
10e17 minus 10% = .9*10e17 = 9*10e16

NOT

10e16

Grade 8 math Fail.

"Earth receives about 10e17 W from the sun. If about 10% of that is absorbed in the atmosphere, it makes 10e16 W." - praos
finfife
5 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2012
I've followed Jacobsen's work for years. He's added valuable insight, but I think his ivory tower position has blinded him a bit to what I think is the biggest obstacle to a 100-fold increase in wind power. Economics and environmental impact aren't the most difficult hurdles. It's local opposition.

When I was wind prospecting several years ago, poring over NREL's national wind resource maps, I noted that the best wind on the East coast was off of Cape Cod. Since then, I've followed the fortunes of Cape Wind. If we can't build a wind farm in the bluest state without decades of fights with the local population (including Senator Kennedy, who otherwise favored renewables), what hope is there that we can get to 100x?

I like wind power, but scaling it up by a factor of 100 would require a staggering amount of eminent-domain steamrollering over local opposition that couldn't be pulled off totalitarian China, let alone a democracy.
Waaalt
1 / 5 (5) Sep 16, 2012
It's just about impossible to make that many wind turbines by 2030. You'd need huge increases in turbine production capacity. Even a WWII scale effort with 2012 numbers would still probably fall short.
Waaalt
1 / 5 (4) Sep 16, 2012
Concentrating power production in remote areas is foolish because there is no local power demand; thus massive power transfer infrastructure is also required, and it simply can not be all that efficient because of the large transfer distances required.

When you do this with wind, you create a ton of power in a remote area when it may or may not be needed anywhere you can actually get that power to.

Widely distributed power production, generating power when and where it is needed is the sensible approach.

For example, a skyscraper with windmills or a solar rig or both could cut its power bill whenever the wind was blowing and/or sun was shining and just use the city grid as normal when it wasn't. If it could sometimes sell surplus power to nearby buildings at rates which undercut the grid, even better.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Sep 16, 2012
It's just about impossible to make that many wind turbines by 2030. You'd need huge increases in turbine production capacity.

Since wind COULD provide all energy but does not need to (as it is just one part of an alternative energy mix) it's not impossible to get enough capacity up and running in a relatively short time to fill that need.

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