New research published in Nature Climate Change shows that power generated by surface and high-altitude winds can meet the global energy demands with a low environmental effect. The researchers, of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution Department of Global Ecology, both in California, measured how much power can be extracted from the wind considering geophysical limits.
The results show that surface winds (those harvested by regular wind farms) can provide 400 terrawatts (TW) of power, which is more than 20 times the current global energy demand (which is set on 18 TW). Moreover, high-altitude winds, which would be harvested by technology merging turbines and kites, could provide around 1,800 TW of power.
In order to minimize the environmental impact of turbines and kites, these should be uniformly distributed, the researchers warn. ‘Looking at the big picture, it is more likely that economic, technological or political factors will determine the growth of wind power around the world, rather than geophysical limitations,’ says Ken Caldeira, co-author of the study and researcher at Carnegie.
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Kate Marvel, Ben Kravitz, & Ken Caldeira (2012). Geophysical limits to global wind power Nature Climate Change DOI: 10.1038/nclimate1683