New Study Shows Wind Power Could Increase Surface Temperature
A study published on Oct. 4 by Harvard University researchers has found that a national transition to large-scale wind power would result in an increase in surface temperature over the continental United States. The two papers, which were published in the journals Joule and Environmental Research Letters, examine the environmental impact of wind power within the context of a global transition towards low-carbon energy sources.
The article was published by David Keith, leader of the Keith research group and professor at Harvard University, and Lee Miller, a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
According to the research, using exclusively wind power to generate current U.S. electricity demand would raise average continental U.S. temperatures by 0.24°C. This increase in temperatures is a result of wind turbines redistributing heat by mixing the boundary layer of air in the atmosphere.
Currently, wind power provides 6.5% of the United States’ electricity, according to the American Wind Energy Association. However, in order to see the increase in temperature referenced by Keith’s research, the nation would need to transition into an entirely wind-powered electricity system. Creating the wind farms necessary for such a system, the study finds, would require five to 20 more times land than previously thought.
In other words, it is unlikely that the U.S. will undergo the massive changes required to produce an effect like the one predicted by the study. Furthermore, the authors of the study have clarified that while wind power will have more climate impact than coal or gas within the next ten years, in the long term it is still undoubtedly a cleaner alternative.
“Wind beats coal by any environmental measure, but that doesn’t mean that its impacts are negligible,” says Keith. “We must quickly transition away from fossil fuels to stop carbon emissions. In doing so, we must make choices between various low-carbon technologies, all of which have some social and environmental impacts.”
According to Keith, “The work should not be seen as a fundamental critique of wind power.” He went on to say that “Some of wind’s climate impacts will be beneficial — several global studies show that wind power cools polar regions. Rather, the work should be seen as a first step in getting more serious about assessing these impacts for all renewables. Our hope is that our study, combined with the recent direct observations, marks a turning point where wind power’s climatic impacts begin to receive serious consideration in strategic decisions about decarbonizing the energy system.