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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 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.

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