Study Suggests Wind Power Potential Is Much Higher Than Current Estimates
Jul 16, 2009 - John Loring - The New York Times
Global wind energy potential is considerably higher than previous estimates by both wind industry groups and government agencies, according to a Harvard University study published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
The new research surfaced just weeks after T. Boone Pickens, citing rising financing costs, scaled back his plans for the world’s largest wind farm in west Texas.
Using data from thousands of meteorological stations, the Harvard team estimated the world wind power potential to be 40 times greater than total current power consumption. A previous study cited in the paper put that multiple at about 7 times.
In the lower 48 states, the potential from wind power is 16 times more than total electricity demand in the United States, the researchers suggested – significantly greater than a 2008 Department of Energy study that projected wind could supply a fifth of all electricity in the country by 2030.
While remote regions of Russia and Canada have the greatest theoretical potential, the Harvard study pointed out that there are real gains to be made in high-emission nations, especially China, which has been rapidly constructing coal plants. “Large-scale development of wind power in China could allow for an 18-fold increase in electricity supply relative to consumption reported for 2005,” the Harvard study said.
The findings are “further validation of what we’ve been saying – that the United States is the Saudi Arabia of wind,” said Michael Goggin, an electricity industry analyst for the American Wind Energy Association.
The authors based their calculations on the deployment of 2.5- to 3-megawatt wind turbines situated either in accessible rural areas that are neither frozen nor forested, or relatively shallow offshore locations. They also used a conservative 20 percent estimate for capacity factor, a measure of how much energy a given turbine actually produces.
In an example of how renewable energy potential can be a moving target, Mr. Goggin explained that the growth in the forecasts can be attributed to the increasingly common use of very large turbines that rise to almost 100 meters.
Wind speeds are greater at higher elevations. Previous wind studies were based on the deployment of 50- to 80-meter turbines.
“As turbines start to get taller,” predicts Mr. Goggin, “we’ll see a lot more capitalization of the resource.”