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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: Incomplete study not worth mentioning
By TSS on 9/11/2012 4:49:18 AM , Rating: 2
It's a floating power generator. I'm pretty sure generating heat so it doesn't freeze over isn't much of a problem.

I'm personally much more worried about the effects it'll have on the climate. They say precipitation happens 1% less sure but they don't say and can't say where that precipitation will occur as a result. It might rain just as often, but in completly different places, severly affecting the climate in both locations.

Untill we can say with certainly where it's going to rain how much in a week from now, we shouldn't even attempt this on any larger scale then experimental.

RE: Incomplete study not worth mentioning
By EricMartello on 9/11/2012 10:40:18 PM , Rating: 2
I'm pretty sure generating heat so it doesn't freeze over isn't much of a problem.

Heat isn't a normal by-product of wind power. Traditional power plants do have to expel a lot of heat because they are relying on steam pressure to drive turbines.

I also do think that even slight changes to the jet stream can have drastic changes on climate around the world. It is, after all, the engine that drives all weather on this planet.

RE: Incomplete study not worth mentioning
By mindless1 on 9/13/2012 3:19:06 PM , Rating: 2
The generator creates heat. Granted not a lot, but it is not 100% efficient. The only reason it isn't an issue is because there's /wind/ to cool it down, and of course a generator designed within its thermal limits vs capacity.

However I doubt it is enough heat to keep the surface of a balloon above freezing, but instead generated power could be periodically fed to a heating element to slough off larger amounts of ice at a time.

By EricMartello on 9/13/2012 6:52:37 PM , Rating: 2
Including heating elements within the balloon material was well as the rotors and turbine housing would add a lot of weight and complexity. It would address this potential problem by increasing the likelihood that frequent maintenance would be necessary.

I don't think wind power is conducive to the central power generation and distribution model we currently use. It works better with smaller turbines providing supplemental power rather than being a primary source.

One idea that I was thinking might be worth trying is to use a stirling engine to supplement electricity generation of places that emit high amounts of heat as a by-product, such as a computer data center. Stirling engines work based on a temperature differential, so they could use the heat expelled by the HVAC system and convert some of the heat back into electricity.

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