Study: Wind could power the world

2012-09-11 10:33

Washington - There's enough wind to power the world many times over, according to a study, but it would take a massive infrastructure investment to harness it that analysts say is not realistic.

As the world seeks to lessen its reliance on fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are being developed as alternatives.

Contrary to some other recent studies, analysis of climate data in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates wind turbines could harness hundreds of terawatts of electricity, far more than is needed to power the globe, even when accounting for the interplay between the groupings of turbines in so-called "wind farms".

To reach that maximum potential, according to study author Mark Jacobson, it would require 1.5 billion massive windmills to be installed on and offshore.

That's far more than you would need to meet the world's actual energy demands, the Stanford University engineer qualified, but you would still need many millions more turbines than currently exist.

Sceptical experts

Even with substantial recent investments in wind power, "the total installed wind capacity worldwide is around 250 gigawatts," or about a hundredth of what is needed to power half the world for electricity, cooling, and everything else.

Jacobson envisions a very different future.

He estimated it would take four million five-megawatt turbines - bigger than most currently in use - to power half of 2030's energy needs.

"The world today produces 70 - 80 million cars every year. We only need four million turbines once every 30 years," Jacobson reasoned, arguing it was certainly feasible.

But experts were sceptical.

"If that was the main objective of the world to do this, you could probably do it. But it's a question of how much do you spend on renewables compared to other priorities in society," said Audun Botterud, an energy researcher for the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory.

In addition to the economic investment, Botterud said the challenges of changing winds should not be underestimated.

"If you have a relatively modest amount of wind power, it's relatively easy to manage that variability and uncertainty, but as you scale it up, it becomes much more challenging," Botterud said.

"Ideally, if you have some kind of storage device that can store electricity on a large scale, you could use that to store electricity when you have a surplus," to use when the winds die down.

But "storage is still very expensive and it is kind of limited, how much storage you can build with current technologies."

"On top of that you, have the cost of building out transmission lines" from windy areas to where the power is needed.

University of Colorado environmental policy expert Roger Pielke agreed, saying: "Speculative science can be enlightening, but it remains far from the practical world of energy systems."

  • robin.stobbs.9 - 2012-09-11 10:58

    Total installed capacity of around 250GW? That means actual delivered would be around 83GW at the most! Storage of electrical power is the biggest problem facing alternative power sources. Long distance transmission of low voltage results in huge line losses so somehow to make wind power useful scientists need to develop storage units with the capacity to store and release electrical power in the order of 20 000V or more. We are far from this in the foreseeable future. Quite rightly, "Speculative science can be enlightening, but it remains far from the practical world of energy systems."

      Tony Lapson - 2012-09-11 11:28

      You are thinking within the barriers of technology currently available. For all we know, the game could change completely in the next 5 years. Just look at the exponential development of technology.

      harald.voney - 2012-09-11 12:31

      You can store energy in dams, by pumping upstream when excess energy is available, and releasing when required... we do that in SA somewhere already. Works very well.

      DuToitCoetzee - 2012-09-11 12:51

      @harald. I like your way of thinking by creating potential energy(like in batteries/saved for later), but do we have enough water in certain windy areas to do it. Usually these windy areas don't have and if we have to bring the power towards these areas(water) one lose energy again. Maybe windy areas along the coast? Will that than effect our nature again with the salt water dams inland as well as the areas next to the coast must be so high to create hydro-power. Not even talking of the salt effect on machines. Maybe some one with more knowledge, on the possibility, can comment.

      stevie0064 - 2012-09-11 16:59

      Can it be stored in hydrogen fuel?

      nick.armstrong.1800 - 2012-09-11 17:09

      @ Tony - well said.. In 5/10/20 - 30 years' time - our technologies and knowledge will be much, much more advanced than is today.. With the right political will - and R & D spend - we can - and MUST develop all the renewable options for bulk energy supply - not just wind - but solar, geo-thermal, tidal and others too... :) The 'holy grail' would be Nuclear Fusion one day - where the energy is limitless and infinite and its by-products are harmless inert gasses.. An ideal gas for Fusion is Helium 3 though - rare on Earth - but in abundance on the moon... :)

  • alan.gernet - 2012-09-11 11:31

    What about making Juju useful with his hot air?

      Mark - 2012-09-11 11:36

      yawn - do you have to bring that idiot and or the ANC into everything. Ffs!

      alan.gernet - 2012-09-11 11:51

      he is an untapped resource of hot air.

      stirrer.stirrer - 2012-09-11 12:29

      ...coming out both sides.

      dimitripappas - 2012-09-11 13:34

      Making Juju useful with his hot air? You mean making good use of a hot air balloon? Raising him up with one to 5000ft and then letting him skydive off it without a parachute. Sounds like wonderful juju fun to me :)

  • denis.dendrinos - 2012-09-11 11:35

    Wow - big surprise - you again Robin...... While what you say about long distance transmission and the reliability of wind and needing to store it is true - I have to wonder how feasible it will become once coal and oil cost far far more than it does now (and we've seen how the oil price has risen) or when they run out completely. Remember things being said about how infeasible travelling to the moon would be....

  • celtis.africana - 2012-09-11 11:42

    So did they also look at the Butterfly effect?

      tonyzr2tx - 2012-09-11 11:58

      Just thinking the same thing.

  • robbie.crouch - 2012-09-11 11:52

    Please make it bird and bat friendly first!

      koos.marincowitz - 2012-09-11 15:01

      Robbie,Please have look at Bleeding edge technology.

      trudy.cashel - 2012-09-12 12:43

      Robbie I agree but even before that read this

  • vloftie - 2012-09-11 12:25

    The sceptics all have shares/interests in Oil companies... I want to know who these "Sceptical experts" are...

      stirrer.stirrer - 2012-09-11 12:32

      No, you've got it totally wrong. The "sceptics" are just realistic. Wind power is OK as a supplementary energy source, but isn't viable for base load.

      Tony Lapson - 2012-09-11 14:22

      They are as "realistic" as the Skeptics who thought that flight wasn't possible, thinking under the premise that what they know is an absolute. I assure you, it is entirely possible to completely harness the power of nature to provide energy for all. It will be experimental and expensive at first, but it will also create more opportunity and innovation to perfect it.

      nick.armstrong.1800 - 2012-09-11 17:20

      Tony - absolutely sir! :)

      trudy.cashel - 2012-09-12 12:49

      Vloftie you will find "Sceptical experts" (using their real names) on Do you know who the scientists are that make up the "consensus" on man made climate change and where they debate the issue online?

  • DuToitCoetzee - 2012-09-11 12:41

    Good and well people, but when building these "big boys", please place it balanced around our planet. Just now we getting "lift-off". Specially towards the sun will be fatal. LOL!

  • NickvanderLeek - 2012-09-11 16:25

    it's not constructive to think about energy in absolutes. You need a diverse range that all add up to a pie of energy so that you're not over-reliant on one source. I do think wind and solar ought to be ramped up big time because the vast majority of our energy is still being supplied by non-renewable fossil fuels. That obviously cannot continue indefinitely. The sooner we wean ourselves onto renewables, the better our prospects become for the long term.

      nick.armstrong.1800 - 2012-09-11 17:22

      Exactly mate - wind, solar, geo-thermal, tidal amongst other renewable sources.. :) All will play a part in future bulk energy supply.. And - one day - the 'holy grail' - Nuclear Fusion.. :)

  • trudy.cashel - 2012-09-11 18:34

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