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By CER News Desk on Sep 11, 2012 with 5 responses

Study: 4 Million Turbines Can Power Entire World on Wind

Tags: wind power
  • 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.”

  1. By Rif on September 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    > Humanity consumes about 18 terawatts of electricity per year

    Watt is unit for power, joule or watt * hour is unit for energy. You cannot talk about watts per year. Think of difference between power and energy as difference between speed (km/h) and distance (km). 

    “In 2008, total worldwide energy consumption was 474 exajoules (474×1018 J=132,000 TWh). This is equivalent to an average power use of 15 terawatts (1.504×1013 W).”


  2. By notKit P on September 11, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    RIF I thought that surely you must be wrong because one of prestigious national labs would not make such a mistake. Sadly you are correct. More useless science out of California in particular and our national labs in general. Even more disturbing is this statement:


    “We didn’t necessarily restrict our study to what was feasible.”


    It only takes simple calculations to figure out that the amount of renewable energy sources far exceed demand but the feasibility of harnessing it is the problem.

  3. By Cyril R. on September 12, 2012 at 5:11 am

    These sort of studies are misleading at best. The world average power demand is indeed something like 15 TW, and it varies very little over the year. But wind varies massively over minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, and even decades. This doesn’t match! to make this an apples to apples comparison we’d have to talk about how to store the energy so that it can be used when needed. For example, see this numerical exercise to get a scale of the problem:


    Clearly after reading that, how can anyone think we’ll manage this? How can anyone think that not calculating the amount of energy storage, makes a study on “powering the world with wind” anything but misleading?

  4. By Russ Finley on September 12, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    I took a peek at the study. They are just looking at theoretical physical limits. There is also more than enough sun hitting the earth to power humanity. Analogously, there may be plenty of gold on the moon. It just isn’t economically feasible to extract it.

  5. By Demetri Petrenko on September 20, 2012 at 12:28 am

    Read who funded the report, Department of Energy pushing “green energy” so the goverment will try and pass cap & trade on CO2 emmisions and Goldman Sachs will get even richer. they will finally sell nothinhg and get paid

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