Study: 4 Million Turbines Can Power Entire World on Wind
- Study looks at geophysical limits to global wind power
- Critics knock lack of economic feasibility and land area requirements
With many oil fields on the decline and the push towards green energy in full swing, new studies show that all of modern human civilization could be easily powered by wind energy if the necessary infrastructure — approximately four million wind turbines — were in place.
The power of wind is all around us, strong at ground level and even more powerful in the upper atmosphere, yet it remains an elusive power source given its unreliability. Reports on the potential of wind as an energy source vary with their optimism, but a paper released this week in Nature Climate Change insists that the Earth produces enough wind to power the globe 100 times over.
While that number may not be currently achievable, it is a worthy goal. Humanity consumes about 18 terawatts of electricity per year, with wind power producing about 4.1 percent of that amount, leaving lots of room for growth in the wind industry.
“We were looking at the geophysical limits of what the Earth could handle,” says Kate Marvel, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and co-author of the paper. “We didn’t necessarily restrict our study to what was feasible.”
To put what’s possible into context, a 2008 report by the United States Department of Energy estimated that, even with billions of dollars in investment, wind has the potential to account for no more than 20 percent of U.S. electricity creation by the year 2030. Even still, that much lower number would depend on a continued dropping in the price of harnessing the wind and vastly increased production of turbines and other wind farm equipment.
Potentially years away from being well-exploited but surrounding us at all times, the power of the wind is promising in its ability to produce clean and cheap energy for public consumption, but its development into a viable source of electricity will depend heavily on political and economic factors, especially in these uncertain times. As the study concludes: “[I]t seems that the future of wind energy will be determined by economic, political and technical constraints, rather than global geophysical limits.”