Since its founding in 2006, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has paired research teams from MIT with key players in the private and policy sectors to help improve energy systems and technologies. With extensive resources in the areas of science, technology and policy, MITEI is a respected resource for unbiased analysis of energy issues. As MITEI approaches its fifth anniversary, MIT’s news office is publishing a five-part series highlighting the state of zero-carbon energy technologies, and their potential for scaling up enough to make a significant dent in global carbon emissions. Part II of the series focuses on the only zero-carbon energy source that has proven itself to be cost-competitive with conventional energy sources: wind power.
According to MIT, 2 percent of the world’s electricity currently comes from wind. Some experts estimate that wind power could account for 10 to 20 percent of world electricity generation over the next few decades. “Wind is probably one of the most significant renewable energy sources, simply because the technology is mature,” says Paul Sclavounos, an MIT professor of mechanical engineering and naval architecture. “There is no technological risk.”
Sclavounos has been designing wind turbines for installation on floating offshore platforms, which he (and others) believes will improve the economics of offshore wind farms. Instead of spending months constructing offshore wind turbine platforms, developers could fully assemble the floating wind turbines onshore, tow them into position and anchor them to the seafloor.
However, critics raise questions about how much difference wind power can actually make. MIT physicist Robert Jaffe says that wind is “excellent in certain niche locations, but overall it’s too diffuse” to be the major player in curbing carbon emissions. “In the long term, solar is the best option” to be sufficiently scaled up to make a big difference. You can read the entire series and decide for yourself here.