Global Warming Cools Wind Power Output

Bad news for wind farms: global warming reduces wind speeds. That’s the word from climate researcher Diandong Ren, a research scientist at the University of Texas at Austin, who recently published a paper “Effects of global warming on wind energy availability” in the Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.

Apparently, the prevailing winds in the “free” atmosphere about 1,000 meters above the ground are maintained by a temperature gradient that decreases toward the poles. According to Ren, as the climate changes and global temperatures rise, the temperature contrast between the lower latitudes and the poles decreases slightly, because polar regions will be warming up to warm up faster. As that contrast in temperature weakens, so do wind speeds the world over.

Wind Farms

image via Cannon Power Group

The upshot? Ren calculates that a 2-4 degree Celsius increase in temperatures in Earth’s mid to high-latitudes would result in a 4-12 percent decrease in wind speeds in certain high northern latitudes. This means, he says, that with “everything else being the same, we need to invest in more wind turbines to gain the same amount of energy. Wind energy will still be plentiful and wind energy still profitable, but we need to tap the energy source earlier.” What does he mean by earlier? Well, before there is less to tap–and a chance to actually slow the effects of global warming with the wind power.

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.

    • Jay

      Global surface temps were 0.5 degrees Celsius warmer in the past decade, so what are we looking at — 30-70 years for this slow down to occur? I smell a calculus problem.