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Wind Power Could Cause Warming Effect, Study Suggests

While wind power undoubtedly beats fossil fuel-powered energy in environmental measures, large-scale wind power deployment could cause rising temperatures, a new study by Harvard researchers suggests.

While wind power reduces emissions, its climate impacts—if wind plants were to generate 100 percent of U.S. electricity demand—are not negligible, according to Harvard postdoctoral fellow and first author Lee Miller, and to David Keith, the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and senior author of the paper.

The researchers modeled a scenario in which wind power were to provide all the present U.S. electricity demand and covered one-third of the continental U.S. with enough wind turbines to meet that demand. Using a standard weather-forecasting model, the researchers found that this scenario would warm the surface temperature of the continental U.S. by 0.24 degrees Celsius, with the largest changes occurring at night when surface temperatures would increase by up to 1.5 degrees. Wind turbines actively mix the atmosphere near the ground, which causes the warming.

According to the study, the warming effect is “small compared with projections of 21st century warming, approximately equivalent to the reduced warming achieved by decarbonizing global electricity generation, and large compared with the reduced warming achieved by decarbonizing US electricity with wind.”

“The direct climate impacts of wind power are instant, while the benefits of reduced emissions accumulate slowly,” Keith said, commenting on the study in The Harvard Gazette.

“If your perspective is the next 10 years, wind power actually has — in some respects — more climate impact than coal or gas. If your perspective is the next thousand years, then wind power has enormously less climatic impact than coal or gas,” Keith said.

The researcher noted that the study shouldn’t be viewed as a “fundamental critique of wind power,” but as a consideration to begin assessing strategic decisions about decarbonizing electricity generation.

Keith told MIT Technology Review that he was sure that the paper would be misinterpreted and used by some to speak against more wind power.

Related: Big Oil Is Back On A Spending Spree

Stanford professor John Dabiri criticized the study and told MIT Technology Review that the modeling assumptions used are known for doing a poor job in predicting the flow in real-world wind farms.

According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), wind power generated a record 6.3 percent of U.S. electricity in 2017. Currently, there are more than 54,000 wind turbines with a combined capacity of 90,004 MW operating in 41 states, Guam, and Puerto Rico.


The Department of Energy expects total U.S. wind capacity to be 404.25 GW across 48 states in 2050.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • EHLipton on October 08 2018 said:
    Try this one on, after building my place 20+ yrs ago, I was present while my water well was drilled. At 80' we hit a full cavern of water, 35' later we regained full circulation again and hit red bed. Water was clear, cold, good tasting and at wide open valve seemed endless. Perfect,, right? Today kinda thick, slow to replenish in cavern and recently,,, warm to almost hot. Now I know what you think you know,, I was a contract plumber for 17 of a 27 year plumbing career. My pump is not operated by a pressure switch anymore, due to there burning of one set of two contact's ruining pumps. It NOW is done via the double throw breaker,, only. MANUALLY. So, it ain't the motor. But,, I do live in a very active oil laden and drilling area. As such, there have been many many holes drilled and,, FRACKED within hundreds of yards all around me. I live in,,, Midland county, Midland, Texas. Wanna discuss warming?
  • Craig Taylor on October 08 2018 said:
    Wind generally will not be a problem. But it should be noted that solar panels can already mitigate higher temperatures by allowing panels to provide some shading of agricultural plots during part of the day. Solar panels can actually increase agricultural output in hot climates.
  • Emmanuel Garcia on October 06 2018 said:
    I do not believe that, its not like other power plant like gas, coal where you insert impurities to the atmosphere, maybe it could somewhat slow the cycle of climate change but very minimal.
  • Douglas Houck on October 05 2018 said:
    from Business Insider:

    "The reason for this effect: Normally the air is more still at night, with cold air staying near the surface and warmer air resting a little higher. But turbines bring the warm air down and cool air up, making the ground a bit toastier. The effect is seen less during the day but is still there.

    Still, the effect from turbines is different from human-caused climate change. It mostly consists of warming, it’s local, and it’s temporary. When the turbines are still because the air is calm, there’s no warming."


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