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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 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.

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