Mar 5th, 2013
A series of recently released studies make it clear that wind power is not going to save us—not from global warming, not from high extinction rates, and not from the system of high-energy-consumption industrial exploitation that is killing the planet.
Let’s start with the most damning findings: even the most large-scale shift to wind power cannot slow greenhouse gas emissions enough to have any positive effect on the climate, although it may manage to make things worse. Why?
A study published in Nature Climate Change in September found that although hypothetically there is enough power in the earth’s winds to sustain current levels of energy consumption, in practice you could never harvest enough energy from wind to affect the climate:
Turbines create drag, or resistance, which removes momentum from the winds and tends to slow them. As the number of wind turbines increases, the amount of energy that is generated increases. But at some point, the winds would be slowed so much that adding more turbines will not generate more electricity. …
[T]he study found that the climate effects of extracting wind energy at the level of current global demand would be small, as long as the turbines were spread out and not clustered in just a few regions. At the level of global energy demand, wind turbines might affect surface temperatures by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit and affect precipitation by about 1 percent. Overall, the environmental impacts would not be substantial. (emphasis added)
Another study, published in Nature last month, found that wind farms being constructed in Scotland actually lead to a net increase in carbon dioxide emissions:
Wind farms are typically built on upland sites, where peat soil is common. In Scotland alone, two thirds of all planned onshore wind development is on peatland. England and Wales also have large numbers of current or proposed peatland wind farms.
But peat is also a massive store of carbon, described as Europe’s equivalent of the tropical rainforest. Peat bogs contain and absorb carbon in the same way as trees and plants — but in much higher quantities.
British peatland stores at least 3.2 billion tons of carbon, making it by far the country’s most important carbon sink and among the most important in the world.
Wind farms, and the miles of new roads and tracks needed to service them, damage or destroy the peat and cause significant loss of carbon to the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change. …
Richard Lindsay of the University of East London, said … “The world’s peatlands have four times the amount of carbon than all the world’s rainforests. But they are a Cinderella habitat, completely invisible to decision- makers.”
Finally, a study published last month in the journal Environmental Research Letters conducted a further analysis on the effects of wind turbine drag:
Each wind turbine creates behind it a “wind shadow” in which the air has been slowed down by drag on the turbine’s blades. The ideal wind farm strikes a balance, packing as many turbines onto the land as possible, while also spacing them enough to reduce the impact of these wind shadows. But as wind farms grow larger, they start to interact, and the regional-scale wind patterns matter more.
Keith’s research has shown that the generating capacity of very large wind power installations (larger than 100 square kilometers) may peak at between 0.5 and 1 watts per square meter. Previous estimates, which ignored the turbines’ slowing effect on the wind, had put that figure at between 2 and 7 watts per square meter.
In short, we may not have access to as much wind power as scientists thought. …
“If wind power’s going to make a contribution to global energy requirements that’s serious, 10 or 20 percent or more, then it really has to contribute on the scale of terawatts in the next half-century or less,” says Keith.
If we were to cover the entire Earth with wind farms, he notes, “the system could potentially generate enormous amounts of power, well in excess of 100 terawatts, but at that point my guess, based on our climate modeling, is that the effect of that on global winds, and therefore on climate, would be severe — perhaps bigger than the impact of doubling CO2.” (emphasis added)
As if that weren’t enough, another study has just concluded that large wind turbines constructed offshore may snap like matches when hit by medium-size waves:
“If we do not take ringing into consideration, offshore wind turbine parks can lead to financial ruin,” warns John Grue to the research magazine Apollon at University of Oslo. …
Ringing does not just harm wind turbines. Ringing has already been a great problem for the oil industry. The designers of the YME platform did not tak ringing into account, and lost NOK 12 billion.
“It is possible to build your way out of the ringing problem by strengthening the oil rigs. However, it is not financially profitable to do the same with wind turbines,” says John Grue.
And finally, let’s not forget what environmentalists have been warning about for decades: wind turbines murder birds.
ReWire has learned that the North Sky River Wind project, which attracted fierce opposition from environmental groups concerned about potential threat to eagles and California condors, was the site of a golden eagle death in January. …
The eagle kill apparently occurred on January 29, just a month after North Sky River started generating power.
So what’s the solution? Certainly not wind, solar, or any other industrial magic bullet. The solution is to dramatically scale back consumption and shift to local-based economies not dependent upon stealing resources from distant people and lands.
The solution is to demolish the global economic system.