Two Studies: Wind potentially could power the world
by Seth Borenstein, Associated Press, Sept 10, 2012
Earth has more than enough wind
to power the entire world, at least technically, two new studies find. But the
research looks only at physics, not finances. Other experts note it would be
too costly to put up all the necessary wind turbines and build a system that could transmit energy to all consumers.
The studies are by two different U.S. science
teams and were published in separate journals on Sunday and Monday. They
calculate that existing wind turbine technology could produce hundreds of trillions of watts of power. That's more than
10 times what the world now consumes.
Wind power doesn't emit heat-trapping gases like
burning coal, oil and natural gas. But there have been questions, raised in
earlier studies, about whether physical limits would prevent the world from
being powered by wind.
The new studies, done independently, showed
potential wind energy limits wouldn't be an
issue. Money would be. "It's really a question about economics and
engineering and not a question of fundamental resource availability," said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the
Palo Alto, Calif., campus of the Washington-based Carnegie
Institution for Science. He is a co-author of one of the studies; that
one appeared Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Caldeira's study finds wind has the potential
to produce more than 20 times the amount of energy the world now consumes.
Right now, wind accounts for just a tiny fraction of the energy the world
consumes. So to get to the levels these studies say is possible, wind
production would have to increase dramatically.
If there were 100 new wind turbines for every
existing one, that could do the trick says, Mark
Jacobson, a Stanford University professor of civil and environmental
engineering. Jacobson wrote the other study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
It shows a slightly lower potential in the amount of wind
power than Caldeira's study. But he said it still would amount to far
more power than the world now uses is or is likely to use in the near future. Jacobson
said startup costs and fossil fuel subsidies prevent wind from taking off.
The cheap price of natural gas, for one thing, hurts wind development, he
Henry Lee, a Harvard University environment
and energy professor who used to be energy chief for the state of
Massachusetts, said there a few problems with the idea of wind powering the
world. The first is the cost is too high. Furthermore, all the necessary wind
turbines would take up too much land and require dramatic increases in power
transmission lines, he said.
Jerry Taylor, an energy and environmental
analyst at the conservative Cato Institute, said the lack of economic reality
in the studies made them "utterly irrelevant." Caldeira acknowledged
that the world would need to change dramatically to shift to wind. "To
power civilization with wind turbines, I think you're talking about a couple
wind turbines every square mile," Caldeira said. "It's not a