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Researchers estimate there's potential for 1,800 TW of wind power

Using advanced computer simulations, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Carnegie Mellon University studied how much power could be feasibly extracted from atmospheric wind and what the effects on climate would be.

Many think that high-altitude wind could offer dramatic cost savings over ground-based wind by tapping into powerful currents like the jet stream.  Indeed the team, led by LLNL researcher Professor Katherine Marvel, found that while surface winds could only theoretically yield 400 terawatts of annual power production, high-altitude winds could yield up to 1,800 terawatts.

That's 100-times the current global power consumption of approximately 18 terawatts.

High-altitude winds could be captured by using gas-filled inflatables (or kites) with turbines mounted on them.  One factor the team did not look at was price.  Price remains an issue for high-altitude wind harvest, as helium -- the most convenient gas for floaters -- is growing scarce.

The current research focused more on the environmental impact.  As wind turbines slow the air travelling over them, as they harvest its mechanical energy, they can have a climate impact.  But the team estimates that if they were well distributed, even at 1,800 terawatts, the impact would only be a 0.1 degree Celsius change in temperatures and a 1 percent change in precipitation.

Simulation climate
Researchers' models indicate that atmospheric wind harvesting may not have a serious adverse impact on the climate. [Image Source: Nature Climate Change]

This indicates that assuming costs can be worked out, high-altitude wind shouldn't have much of an adverse impact on the global climate.  Of course, such models are prone to error, so it's best to take the study with a grain of salt.

The work, funded by the Carnegie Institution of Science, is published [abstract] in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change.  Ken Caldeira, CMU professor and the paper's senior author, comments [press release], "Looking at the big picture, it is more likely that economic, technological or political factors will determine the growth of wind power around the world, rather than geophysical limitations."

Sources: Nature Climate Change, Eurekalert

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RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By senecarr on 9/10/2012 4:24:17 PM , Rating: -1
This calculation was done to see if the entire would could be powered this way. We already know there isn't enough steel, nor concrete to power the world on nuclear.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By ChronoReverse on 9/10/2012 4:42:26 PM , Rating: 2
That seems like an incredibly unbelievable claim that we don't have the steel and concrete the power the world on nuclear when we seem to have more than enough to build cities with them.

Where did you hear this claim?

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By Solandri on 9/10/2012 7:13:03 PM , Rating: 4
I've worked out the math before. For each GW of actual electrical production, wind requires substantially more concrete and steel than nuclear.

A 1 GW AP1000 nuclear reactor with 0.9 capacity factor has an average operating productivity of 900 MW. It requires about a 240,000 tons of concrete and 12,000 tons of steel. (Concrete has a density of 2.4 tons per m^3.)

240,000 tons / 900 MW = 267 tons of concrete per MW
12,000 tons / 900 MW = 13.3 tons of steel per MW

If you use the figures for a Gen II+ nuclear reactor, it's
960,000 tons / 900 MW = 1067 tons of concrete per MW
60,000 tons / 900 MW = 66.7 tons of steel per MW

A 1.5 MW wind turbine on land has a capacity factor of about 0.2-0.25. Going with the higher capacity actor, you get 0.375 MW average generating capacity. The turbine requires about 164 tons of steel and over a thousand tons of concrete.

1000 tons / 0.375 MW = over 2667 tons of concrete per MW
164 tons / 0.375 MW = 437 tons of steel per MW

Capacity factor is just what fraction of the generator's full generation capacity is realized once you factor in downtime due to maintenance and inspections, and (for wind) sub-optimal generating conditions. Wind can get capacity factors up around 0.4-0.5 in highly favorable locations offshore, but then you have to include the weight of moorings and sea anchors. So either way it's substantially more expensive than nuclear in terms of concrete and steel usage.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By wordsworm on 9/10/2012 8:39:25 PM , Rating: 2
I think you forgot to factor in the costs of storing the nuclear waste. How much concrete is required to store waste for 100,000 years?

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By TSS on 9/11/2012 2:51:05 AM , Rating: 4
Depends. If you reprocess the waste to it's theorietical limit (or close anyway), the total nuclear waste for the entire US (with about 20% total power from nuclear) would be about a bathtub worth of radioactive waste per year, which'll decay in about 100-10,000 years.

Or you could just bury it all inside of a mountain. Why bother with steel and concrete when you've got millions of tons of granite to work with.

Good thing obama cut back both programs huh. I swear if there's one area he royally screwed up, it would be nuclear. On that note i'm suprised reclaimer hasn't jumped in yet, this is one of the area's obama is objectively worse then even bush.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By Strunf on 9/11/2012 7:32:34 AM , Rating: 5
"Or you could just bury it all inside of a mountain. Why bother with steel and concrete when you've got millions of tons of granite to work with."

But the moment you say the word nuclear people lose all their logic skills and beyond that point it's impossible to build a discussion with people that seem brain dead.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By mindless1 on 9/13/2012 2:46:10 PM , Rating: 2
Don't worry, as the government drives the cost of power up through the ceiling, more and more people will start liking nuclear power. The fake energy and global warming crisis (note I didn't claim there is or isn't global warming, only that it's not a crisis) will at last have one positive effect.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By Mint on 9/11/2012 1:23:44 PM , Rating: 2
At least Obama is far more pro-nuclear than most of his Democrat colleagues. I think Obama and Chu have had a more positive influence in swaying anti-nuclear opinion than almost anyone in history. People against it certainly haven't cared for the pro-nuclear stance of anyone on the right.

I don't think you can blame him for the Yucca cuts. You need local support before you can get anything like that done, and too many people subscribe to NIMBY there, and even Romney thinks the same. The reaction to Fukushima only confirms that he made the right decision, because it would only be a money pit for a plan that is unlikely to be carried out.

The best solution I've heard for nuclear waste is subduction zone disposal. In any case, nuclear waste is not a pressing enough problem to stop new construction. It's really amazing how little waste nuclear power produces, and a miracle of nature that all the waste can contained on site for decades.

Let's keep swaying public opinion, even using AGW to guilt-trip nuclear opponents. Eventually some state will be willing to rack its coffers with disposal fees.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By Ringold on 9/11/2012 2:49:51 PM , Rating: 3
Some nuclear opponents you can't guilt-trip with AGW, as their enemy is cheap electricity.

But while Obama hasn't appeared to be anti-nuclear, Bush was more vocal in support. He rarely mentions it, and has done relatively little to help push it along, to the point where international observers have considered the "nuclear renaissance" in America to be dead and buried, with global nuclear progress to take place outside the US and EU. The Economist wrote a head-line piece on it this year, and that's a pro-nuclear pro-US newspaper that endorsed Obama (naive Brit's) in 08.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By johnsmith9875 on 9/11/2012 5:38:30 PM , Rating: 2
Bush was a HUGE proponent of Wind Power during his years as Texas Governor.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By Ringold on 9/11/2012 11:11:26 PM , Rating: 2
Texas also has huge amounts of wind, to be fair.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By wordsworm on 9/11/2012 9:05:33 PM , Rating: 1
Nuclear is not cheap. That's a myth. Nuclear advocates always like to pretend that nuclear waste management is a trivial issue, which it's not. Another hugely overlooked issue is fuel. There's not enough of it being mined to feed current demand, let alone an increased demand.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By Ringold on 9/11/2012 11:10:33 PM , Rating: 3
Nuclear plants are not cheap, no one would suggest otherwise! Then again, Exxon and others spend tens of billions on individual oil projects, so accumulating that sort of capital for individual projects is by no means beyond the ability of markets.

However, nuclear waste management SHOULD be trivial. Jesus, drill an extremely deep hole in decently hard rock, several miles down, with technology that already exists, stuff it down, pour some concrete in behind it, backfill in some rock, and there you go. Radioactive waste, stored until hell freezes over, miles below the water table. By the time tectonics or erosion gets to it, it'd be inert. If future humans get to it by mistake, then they're idiots that went to a lot of trouble just to re-discover what radiation sickness is.

Or, put it on a ship. Sail ship over underwater trenches. Push it overboard. A few unfortunate fish on the way down, and then it'd be securely at rest somewhere no humans are ever likely to go. The only thing stopping reasonable solutions from being done is FUD from the greens/leftists.

Fuel, if you're familiar with the issue, is also a non-issue. It's not mined because Russia, as I understand it, dumped huge amounts on the market some years back. Once prices bounce high enough, mining will resume; there's tons of shuttered uranium mines in the US alone. Could also switch to abundant thorium, or reprocess fuel to a large degree. No matter what, fuel input costs are a tiny part of nuclear plants operation costs.

Feel free to try again, though!

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By johnsmith9875 on 9/16/2012 9:33:58 PM , Rating: 2
Nuclear power is terrifyingly expensive, which is why there are no nuclear plants in the USA which weren't subsidized by the government.

No power company is going to take a 15-20 billion dollar risk without some federal backing and assurances they will be able to legally get out of hazardous waste storage and disposal costs.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By boeush on 9/11/2012 8:47:39 PM , Rating: 2
Everyone likes fantasizing about reprocessing and fast breeders.

Nobody likes talking about how difficult and dangerous that actually is, and how much it costs .

If you included the actual price of reprocessing into the price of electricity produced by nuclear reactors, you'd quickly discover that nuclear would no longer be competitive with either coal, wind, hydro, or gas (and in a decade or so, solar.)

The French are famous for their massive state-financed (i.e. taxpayer-funded) reprocessing of nuclear waste. But that's Socialism, ain't it?

My view is, keep the nuke plants for baseline and backup, but shift as much as possible to renewables with emphasis on distributed generation and storage (e.g. each house or building supplying part or all of its own needs), and build up interconnected and redundant smart grids to lessen or even eliminate any issues with intermittency. It would be more resource-intensive and costly in the short term, but it's scalable, sustainable, and more reliable in the long term.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By Solandri on 9/11/2012 9:05:01 PM , Rating: 2
Cost isn't the problem. Remember, reprocessing generates power in addition to converting the "spent fuel" into usable fuel. Considering that regular light water reactors only use less than 10% of the energy stored in the uranium and produces spent fuel which remains "hot" for tens of thousands of years, the net cost of fast breeder reactors is substantially less.

The problem is that reprocessing produces weapons-grade plutonium as a byproduct. That's the reason Carter banned it in the U.S. (outside of military reactors). It's a purely political problem, which is why I didn't touch upon it since the original claim dealt purely with material requirements, not politics.
My view is, keep the nuke plants for baseline and backup, but shift as much as possible to renewables with emphasis on distributed generation and storage (e.g. each house or building supplying part or all of its own needs)

I more or less agree, but maintenance and coordination is going to be a major PITA. Right now if a power line goes down, the power company shuts down the grid in the area, fixes it, and turns it back on. With a distributed system, if one person forgot to maintain their house's system or installed it incorrectly, his solar panels will electrocute the repairman.

None of these power sources is a panacea. Each have their advantages and drawbacks.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By m51 on 9/12/2012 9:06:16 AM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately cost is a problem with reprocessing.

Although fuel cost are a few percent of the total cost of nuclear power, reprocessed fuel is an order of magnitude more expensive than just using mined uranium. On top of that fast reactors are considerably more expensive to build and run than moderated reactors.

Fuel reprocessing and fast reactors are all technically feasible and the technology has been proved but they aren't economically competitive, especially in today's world of large cheap natural gas supplies. Even standard light water reactors are struggling to compete with cheap gas.

Should the situation change due to carbon taxes etc. Fast reactors may become economically competitive again.

Certainly we should be advancing the technology in both fast reactors, liquid fluoride reactors, and reprocessing so the technology is ready for deployment should global warming force a change in energy policy.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By m51 on 9/11/2012 10:35:37 AM , Rating: 2
They should really call it the AP1100 instead of the AP1000. Nominal electrical power out is 1117 Megawatts.

The wind turbine also REQUIRES backup power plants and/or storage and increased powerline costs and materials. None of which have been included.

Unfortunately these easily more than double the cost and materials requirements of intermittent power systems like Wind and Solar.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By johnsmith9875 on 9/11/2012 5:37:45 PM , Rating: 2
There is no such thing as "intermittent" wind power. You are making the simpleminded conclusion that if wind isn't blowing in one area, its not blowing in other areas at the same time, which is not the case if you have ever looked at a weather map.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By m51 on 9/11/2012 9:17:44 PM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately I'm not making any simple minded conclusions, as an engineer I tend to follow the technology in detail. Weather systems are large and cover many hundreds of miles, and seasonal variation is also a problem. We're the largest windpower state in the US here in Texas, yet when the power demand is the highest (in the summer) the winds and wind power are at their lowest.

Although the concept of long distance power sharing via transmission lines seems to off a viable solution the reality is not so rosy. The problem has been looked into in detail.

One study incorporating actual wind and weather data ran a simulation of the aggregate wind power variation for wind power generators distributed along the entire eastern coast of the US, assuming a large grid was available to redistribute the power. The total power is still extremely intermittent and spikey. Certainly a grid redistribution helps make it less spikey but it unfortunately does little to change the fact that you still need alternate power generation to handle the dead times, and a lot of expensive transmission lines and gear to stabilize the grid.

The other downside is that excess power generated that exceeds the need has very low value. The wind power companies here in Texas have been known to actually pay customers 0.3 cents per kwr to take their energy in times of excess power generation just so they can get the 1.9 cent per kwh Federal subsidy money.

Windpower works very well when coupled with hydro, but the total hydro power available is quite low, only 6% of electrical energy in the US is from Hydro and we have pretty much tapped out our Hydro resources.

When you include the actual details of integrating windpower into an energy grid the real world complexities and details of that create problems for which there are no clear cost effective solutions. Windpower can be an energy source, and high altitude wind power has the potential to mitigate some of the intermittency problem but it's never going to be able do more than provide a fraction of our energy needs because the costs start to escalate as you try to increase the total share of windpower energy.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By kattanna on 9/11/2012 11:01:54 AM , Rating: 3
I've worked out the math before

ahh, you see solandri..thats your mistake right there..

doing ACTUAL math using REAL numbers

I would like to thank you myself though for your continued perseverance to try to bring logic to such posts, its most refreshing.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By johnsmith9875 on 9/16/2012 9:35:58 PM , Rating: 2
We all know the executives at Solyndra STOLE the money. Thats what Obama gets for trusting private enterprise too much.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By kattanna on 9/10/2012 4:43:55 PM , Rating: 4
We already know there isn't enough steel, nor concrete to power the world on nuclear.

LOL !! I would really like to thank you for todays belly laugh.

RE: Hydrogen is cheaper
By Ringold on 9/11/2012 2:53:22 PM , Rating: 2
Especially when we live in a world where steel mills are being closed or idled due to weak global demand.

At least when people question if there's enough easily obtainable lithium to convert the whole world to lithium-battery powered cars, that's a reasonable question. But if we consider what makes up steel and concrete... I'd worry about running out of steel's components about the same time I'd worry about running out of sunlight.

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