A study featured in the journal Nature suggests that the latest victim of the green-versus-clean debate is the wind turbine. Researchers looking at wind farms in Texas found that overnight temperatures could increase over time compared with areas that don't have wind farms. This prompted a flurry of media massaging over the global warming link to wind farms, but there were a few "ifs" in the study that might quiet the alarm bells.
The study, published in the journal Nature, found that while wind energy was among the fastest growing renewable energy sectors in the world, there were some drawbacks. The study found that warming attributed to wind farms occurred at a rate of about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. The scientists involved with the study said the warming trend, if large enough, could have "noticeable impacts" on the climate.
Sound the alarms!
"Wind farms can cause climate change," reads the headline from The Daily Telegraph.
"Wind farms are warming the earth," writes Fox News.
More sensibly, however, was the caveat in The Christian Science Monitor that included the all-important word "could" and "local" in its headline, "How wind farms could cause local (but not global) warming."
The scientists found that gently rotating wind turbines work much like the ceiling fan in your living room. Commercial-scale wind farms create a "gentle turbulence" that mixes rising hot air with sinking cooler air, meaning frost might not appear on the ground below a wind farm despite freezing temperatures.
Is this the end of wind? Not really, say the scientists. They note that fruit growers typically create the same scenario by flying helicopters over their orchards to combat frost damage. And most of the effects were considerably localized. However, given this year's quick move from an 80-degree F April to freeze warnings, the ozone layer should virtually disappear given the frost-abatement efforts among cherry farmers in the United States. At least if you're in the business of writing snappy headlines.
Just as President Obama said there's no "silver bullet" that will solve high energy prices, there's not much mankind has invented yet that is zero-sum in terms of alternative or renewable energy. Imagine if oil, with its tendency to linger in the environment, were discovered in the 2012 mews media age or coal, given its link to cancer-causing smog.
Innovation is a slow process that requires patience and deliberation, two characteristics seemingly lost in the digital media age. There's no "silver bullet" that will end the carbon age anytime soon. With tweaks and adjustments, as with any sustainable policy, we can take studies like the one in Nature and learn what's in store for a clean-energy future rather than joust helplessly at the windmills.
By. Daniel J. Graeber of Oilprice.com