Wind energy harvest farm: Palm Springs, California
Wind energy harvest farm: Palm Springs, CaliforniaCourtesy Mark Ryan
Is the wind being knocked out of the sails of the wind energy industry? A study to be published this summer in Journal of Geophysical Research seems to be pointing that way. Wind measurements in the Midwest and eastern parts of the United States in particular have shown a decline in the energy source.

Two atmospheric researchers, Sara Pryor (no relation to Science Buzz’s own Liza Pryor – or is she?) of Indiana University, and her co-author Eugene Takle, a professor at Iowa State University say their research shows a distinct drop in wind speed in areas east of the Mississippi River, especially around the Great Lakes. Wind speeds there have diminished 10 percent or more in the past decade, and an overall decline in wind has been taking place since 1973.

Global warming may be the cause. Differences in barometric pressure drive wind production. In a global-warming environment, the Earth’s polar regions warm more quickly than the rest of the globe, and narrow the temperature difference between the poles and equatorial regions. That reduced difference in temperature also means a reduced difference in barometric pressure, which results in less air movement (wind).

Peak wind speeds in western regions of the US such as Texas and portions of the Northern Plains haven’t changed nearly as much. Pryor speculates the reason the Great Lakes area shows the greatest decrease may be because wind travels more slowly across water than ice, and in recent years there’s been less ice formation on the Great Lakes. Changes in the landscape such as trees and new construction near instrument stations may have also skewed the research. Still, wind speed studies done in Europe and Australia showed similar declines there, adding credence to the Pryor and Takle findings.

There are detractors to the study. Jeff Freedman, an atmospheric scientist with a renewable energy-consulting firm in Albany, N.Y., says his research has revealed no definite trend of reduced wind speed. And even though research hasn’t been published yet, some climate models studying the effects of global warming seem to agree with Freeman’s findings.

But if Pryor’s and Takle’s study proves to be true, it could mean big losses to the wind energy industry, since a 10 percent drop in peak winds would mean a 30 percent change in how wind energy is gathered.

Scientific American website story
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Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

wind power is a very ingenius invention and works in very large numbers.

posted on Fri, 07/10/2009 - 11:57am
thequestion's picture
thequestion says:

Good point, but wind is unreiliable. Have you ever heard the term "As the wind blows?"

posted on Fri, 07/10/2009 - 1:40pm
thequestion's picture
thequestion says:

Also, the slight (less than 1 degree in 100 years) global warming (also called global climate change) may or may not be caused by human activities. There is by no means a consensus on the issue.

See globalclimatescam.com for more information.

posted on Fri, 07/10/2009 - 1:49pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Well, as Gene likes to point out, science doesn't rely on consensus.

When we're talking about average global temperatures, 1 degree is a big deal. And it's warming faster than that in some areas.

Also, I think that the phrase "climate change" was coined, to some extent, to take the teeth from "global warming." It seems apt here, though—falling wind levels fits pretty well into "climate change," don't you think? And, not to completely frame it in a scary way, but "change" is no better than warming, really. If the population centers for billions of people become less habitable, it's bad news, whether it's because they are warmer, colder, drier, or a lot wetter.

But I'm going off track here.

posted on Fri, 07/10/2009 - 3:17pm

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