You can find an old story on the Web with the headline, “New Research Shows Wind Farms Cause Global Warming.” Wouldn’t you know it, on a Fox News site.
The wacky thing is that the 2012 study in question didn’t say that wind farms caused global warming; the researchers weren’t even looking into that question. They did see some increases in localized temperatures (an even earlier study had found increases and decreases), caused by turbines mixing heat from above down to the surface. But they said “this is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.”
Nearly two years later, however, scientists in Europe have investigated the climate impact of what they call “massive deployment of wind energy production facilities.” The conclusion: Even a big increase in wind energy production in Europe by 2020 would lead to regional temperature increases “considerably smaller than typical differences in temperature and precipitation from one winter to the next, and their implications for the Earth’s overall energy budget are considerably less than that of greenhouse gas-induced climate change” [PDF].
The European researchers’ work was published in the journal Nature Communications. They developed data using modeled simulations – no new wind power vs. 200 gigawatts of installed capacity. (Recently released figures from the Global Wind Energy Council showed Europe with 121 GW as of the end of 2013, 38 percent of the world’s installed capacity.)
The study authors said that only in some cases did they find statistically significant temperature rises.
“A statistically significant signal is only found in winter, with changes within ±0.3 °C and within 0–5% for precipitation,” they wrote in the study abstract. “It results from the combination of local wind farm effects and changes due to a weak, but robust, anticyclonic-induced circulation over Europe.”
Despite the conclusion of “limited impacts,” the scientists did offer that with Europe expected to continue to grow its turbine fleet between 2020, “there is a need to carry out fresh studies using other models and different scenarios for wind energy development in order to determine the exact consequences.”
Indeed, the consequences of all of man’s activities need to be carefully assessed. As the authors of the 2012 study had noted, human-made land use changes other than plunking down wind turbines cause far bigger changes. “The “urban heat-island” effect, for example, in Austin or Phoenix, Ariz., could be several degrees °C warmer than the surrounding less developed areas,” they said.