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Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel J. Graeber

Daniel Graeber is a writer and political analyst based in Michigan. His work on matters related to the geopolitical aspects of the global energy sector,…

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Sky Falls for Wind Energy

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

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Leave a comment
  • Colin Megson on May 01 2012 said:
    Why bother trying to condemn wind turbines with such obtuse arguments, when their actual performance is so abysmal? Wind turbine proponents always quote figures in terms of averages, percentages or totals; we never get an account of how they actually perform.

    Well over here in the UK, a report has used actual figures from the National Grid of the amount of electricity delivered by wind farms and periods of time over which that electricity was contributed: http://lftrsuk.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/wind-energy-wanna-be-lievers-whats.html

    It is a shameful disgrace that our politicians can be so beguiled by the false claims of the industry's snake-oil salesmen and their gullible supporters into spending such vast sums of our hard-earned taxes on such a useless technology.
  • Mike Barnard on May 01 2012 said:
    Good and balanced article about alarmist headlines from the study. And it has an alarmist headline. And the first line, which is what shows up in news aggregators is also no where near the tone and content of the actual article.

    As such, while your article is accurate on the media treatment, it is contributing to it instead of deflating it.

    Either a very sophisticated way to attack the credibility of wind while appearing to be balanced, or just a misstep in communication. Given, another article on the front page, I know which way I would place my bet: http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Renewable-Energy/The-Un-Renewable-Nature-of-Renewable-Energy.html
  • Kevin@AWEA on May 01 2012 said:
    This "new study" of the effect of local air mixing at the site of a wind farm says nothing about wind energy and global climate, and casts no doubt on all the other studies that find wind power is one of the best ways to address climate change. Local air mixing has nothing to do with climate, because no heat or heat-trapping gases are being added to the atmosphere.

    To clarify the facts:

    -Wind plants do not contribute to climate change, and in fact they are one of the leading technologies preventing climate change by avoiding fossil fuel use and the emission of greenhouse gases
    -All studies have found that any impact wind plants may have on local weather is trivially small.

    Read our full fact check on the Into the Wind Blog at http://bit.ly/IEC4tI

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