Harnessing the World’s Wind Power

Wind power alone is capable of supplying the world with all of its energy needs. This is according to new research just released by the Carnegie Institute and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Published: Sat 06 Oct 2012

The research shows that atmospheric turbines or kite turbines (harnessed by kites with turbines built in) can convert the stronger and more reliable high-altitude winds into electricity. This is compared to the winds which are converted in to power by ground and ocean-based turbines.

The kite turbines are designed to support themselves without using a tower, working in low or high altitudes. When airborne, the device will transmit extracted energy to the ground via a conductive tether.

The research investigates the following:

The actual limits of wind power

Turbines create resistance which slows wind speed. The more turbines there are, the higher the wind resistance which can lower electricity generation. Research suggests that the atmospheric turbines be properly dispersed so that they offer little resistance in a concentrated area.

The actual amount which can be harnessed

Today’s world population use 18TW of wind power. The research team discovered that atmospheric winds can generate over 1,800TW of power, while surface winds generate a mere 400TW in comparison.

The effects of large-scale, high-altitude wind power

If civilization was completely reliant on wind power for its energy needs (based on the current level of demand), wind turbines would change surface temperatures by around 0.1 degree Celsius and adjust precipitation levels by around 1%. The researchers say that these figures would not have a substantial environmental impact. It can be argued that although wind power will have an effect on the environment, the negative impact of fossil fuels is far greater, writes Mongabay.
According to the research, it is more likely that “economic, technological or political factors will determine the growth of wind power around the world, rather than geophysical limitations.”

The majority of the world’s population is dependent on fossil fuels for energy (87% according to Oil Price). In an effort to reduce carbon emissions and climate-change, renewable energy sources such as wind power are being thoroughly researched.

However, for the world to be completely reliant on wind power for energy, certain aspects must be taken in to account:

Cost Issues

In comparison to fossil-fueled generators, wind power technology requires a higher upfront investment. This is despite the fact that wind power technology costs have seen a dramatic drop over the past 10 years. The machinery costs about 80%, with site preparation and installation accounting for the balance. However, long-term costs of wind power are more competitive as its operating expenses are minimal and there is no need to purchase fuel for its operation.

Environmental Concerns

Wind power plants have little impact on the environment when compared to fossil fuel power plants. However, there are concerns about the noise created by the rotor blades, its aesthetic impact and affects on birdlife. [Read:Trump’s Turbine Tantrum] Birds and bats are beingkilled by flying into the rotors. However, these issues are being resolved or greatly reduced through technological development and the proper positioning of turbines.

Supply and Transmission Issues

The main challenge of wind power is that it is intermittent as it does not always blow when electricity is required. However, wind-generated electricity can be stored, if batteries are used.  Another problem is that wind power farms are situated in isolated locations, far from where the power is required. Also, wind farms may compete with other land uses.

However, with the development of atmospheric wind power technology, most of these concerns may be resolved.

Wind power at 2,000 feet is more consistent and stronger which may provide a more reliable and less intermittent energy source. Also, as far as noise and aesthetics go, the new technology will be elevated.  With regards to birdlife, the device still poses potential danger to high-altitude soaring species and migrating birds. According to a Stanford University report, most birds fly below 500 feet except during migration.  

The idea of an atmospheric wind power device has been around for almost four decades but has not been developed due to a lack of technology. 

Now that the right materials have been developed and the device can be controlled by a computer, the device will soon become a reality.


Earth Times-Wind power may have limits – but we don’t need to push them

Io9-Study: There is enough wind on this planet to meet our entire energy needs

Mongabay-Wind can power the world, says two new studies

Oil Price-The Natural Limits of Wind Energy

Science Daily-Wind Power Not Enough to Affect Global Climate, Researchers Find

Scientific American-The Sky Is the Limit for Wind Power

Simply Green-Wind Energy Could Meet Global Demand 20-100 Times Over, New Study Finds

Solar Companies-Atmospheric Wind Power- Going Up To Produce More Power

Stanford University-How Fast and High Do Birds Fly?

Wind Energy Development Programmatic EIS-Wind Energy Basics