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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 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.

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