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Power Earth Science

Wind Could Provide 100% of World Energy Needs 867

Posted by kdawson
from the lotta-towers dept.
Damien1972 sends in a report on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, which finds that wind power could provide for the entire world's current and future energy needs. "To estimate the earth's capacity for wind power, the researchers first sectioned the globe into areas of approximately 3,300 square kilometers (2,050 square miles) and surveyed local wind speeds every six hours. They imagined 2.5 megawatt turbines crisscrossing the terrestrial globe, excluding 'areas classified as forested, areas occupied by permanent snow or ice, areas covered by water, and areas identified as either developed or urban,' according to the paper. They also included the possibility of 3.6 megawatt offshore wind turbines, but restricted them to 50 nautical miles off the coast and to oceans depths less than 200 meters. Using [these] criteria the researchers found that wind energy could not only supply all of the world's energy requirements, but it could provide over forty times the world's current electrical consumption and over five times the global use of total energy needs."
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Wind Could Provide 100% of World Energy Needs

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 22, 2009 @07:20PM (#28431129)

    Paint them black and cover them with photovoltaic cells.
    What's that? Birds going 20-30mph should know how to differentiate between a white-painted wind turbine and the nearby decidedly white-looking clouds?

  • by dov_0 (1438253) on Monday June 22, 2009 @07:21PM (#28431147)
    The thing that always seems to concern me is this: is it possible for the large amount of energy pulled from the winds to change weather patterns even slightly? I know it sounds stupid, but could even a very slight change over the planet potentially have an impact? Perhaps it is safest that we diversify our energy production. So much wind, solar, atomic etc.
  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Monday June 22, 2009 @07:25PM (#28431215) Homepage Journal

    It just couldn't simply because there isn't wind all the time and we don't have any realistic way to store energy for calm days. Wind could be useful as a part of the energy production but with current technology there is no way wind could be used as the only energy source.

    Personally I use copper wire to move electrons from place to place. My state runs partly on hydro electricity from Tasmania, 200km to the south across a substantial body of water. Apparently the submarine cable which does the job only carries electrons in one direction. The return path is through the water, which comes built in with charge carriers.

  • Energy storage? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rcw-home (122017) on Monday June 22, 2009 @07:28PM (#28431261)

    This article doesn't mention anything about mass energy storage. Without that, if we try to increase wind's share of power generation too much, it'll destabilize the grid (I've heard figures of 20-30% for this previously, but can't find a convenient reference).

    Has anything panned out on that front? (i.e. been cheap enough for wide-scale use?) Pumped-storage hydro [wikipedia.org], Sodium-sulfur batteries [wikipedia.org], etc?

  • by FishTankX (1539069) on Monday June 22, 2009 @07:32PM (#28431351)
    The answer to this is fuel cell plants powered by hydrogen derived from electrolysis. Supplemented by nuclear baseload power if desired. There have been some good advances in cheaper electrolysis latley.
  • Pumped storage, nanotech ultracapacitors, flywheels, fuel cells even will store energy for a calm day. If you have a fairly efficient electricity grid you won't even need to store that much because the chances are it will be windy in some place within reach.

    On calm days the sun usually shines so photo voltaic cells come into play. Don't like those? just use solar concentrators or stirling engine-based solar panels, wave energy, put alternators into the stationary bikes at the local gym.

    Of course the amount of energy required is greatly exaggerated these days because there are a lot of poorly insulated houses and an awful lot of people using incandescent lighting and 'wall warts' (and also wall marts) powering stand-by equipment are ubiquitous. It would be great if everyone had a 12v transformer providing power to 12v sockets around the house and maybe an ultracap that would store some energy so the transformer wouldn't be going all the time.

    I'd go off the grid if i could. I kind of feel people have become overly dependent on electricity - one day I was in a shopping mall in London and a girl actually started screaming the second the power went out. I have a generator and a 600w invertor here but the last time the power went I didn't even bother using them
  • Re:All we need now (Score:5, Interesting)

    by HiThere (15173) <charleshixsn@earthlin k . n et> on Monday June 22, 2009 @08:17PM (#28431991)

    I *think* your opinion is based around obsolete designs. I'm not certain. Perhaps you have good reasons for your beliefs that you didn't mention. It's certain that I don't trust the messianic proponents of either wind or solar, but I do notice that the amount of investment in them has been increasing at a substantial rate over the last decade. To me that means that they must be at least close to sufficiently efficient. (I should have been cured of this belief by bio-ethanol for gasoline, but I haven't been, and consider that a statistical aberration cause by a strong political pressure group.)

    If I'm wrong, could you please offer me a link to substantiate your opinions? Academic sources are preferred over either governmental or industrial.

  • by paazin (719486) on Monday June 22, 2009 @08:17PM (#28431993)

    This report is ... interesting. Placing that many turbines in very remote areas is going to be ridiculously expensive to run transmission lines to, and deal with the effects of intermittent addition of energy to the grid. An electrical grid is a temperamental mistress at the best of times. The technology CAN be had, but it's not as simple as just hooking up a turbine to a grid without some real smarts in between. Also, having trained people available to do regular maintenance on such extremely remote sites (and getting replacement parts there) is not gonna be cheap.

    They already do this quite regularly with the oldest green source of power you managed to omit: Hydroelectric. There are a great deal of dams within British Columbia and Alaska out in the middle of nowhere - and they've been relatively successful and constant power sources.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 22, 2009 @08:23PM (#28432073)

    Well... wind energy is mostly solar energy, like hydro, and frankly, fossil fuels. Basically, none of it matters anyway. It's all just one stupid big game to control and regulate access to energy since available and exploitable energy is the single requirement for increasing standards of living. Since you can't have any rich people without poor people, do the math. Why do rich people want to regulate easy access to energy? So that poor people will cook their food, clear their house, and fight their wars.

  • Re:Offshore (Score:3, Interesting)

    by westlake (615356) on Monday June 22, 2009 @08:40PM (#28432301)

    I've often thought that if it's economically viable to go to the trouble of all that engineering for offshore oil exploration, extraction and processing, surely it's viable to build vast offshore wind farms

    I think the keyword here is "vast."

    The permanent offshore rig is more or less a terminal.

    Impressive in size - but still a single, relatively compact, structure. That is not going to be true of a wind farm.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 22, 2009 @08:49PM (#28432411)

    We do not need to cover a decent portion of the planet with solar cells to generate enough electricity for the whole world. Current world power generation is about 20000 TWh and projected to reach 30000 TWh in 2030. Solar energy per square meter is ca. 1kW peak (sun overhead, no occlusion). The average is about a quarter of that, so you get efficiency*250W*24h*365 per square meter of covered land. That's about efficiency*3MWh per square meter and year. 30000TWh/3MWh is 10^10, or 100km*100km times the inverse of the solar cell efficiency. Let's assume an efficiency of just 10%, then a (200 miles)^2 square would be enough area to supply the electricity for the whole world in 2030. That is "a shitload of solar cells", but not a decent portion of the planet's surface.

  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Monday June 22, 2009 @08:57PM (#28432515)

    Besides transmission issues, what about land use? I mean, what will we eat if all our agricultural land is covered by wind turbines? It is a nice mental exercise to cover all the world's non-aquatic, non-forested, non-urban, and non-polar land with wind turbines, but do wind turbines really integrate well with all the other rural land uses (particularly agriculture) that we have?

    Many farmers are making a _killing_ off of leasing their land for wind turbines. Some are only able to keep their farms going _because_ of the wind turbine land leases. So yeah, it works pretty well, actually. :)

  • by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Monday June 22, 2009 @09:05PM (#28432613)

    How much energy will it take to create these wind turbines?

    The last ROEI, Return on Energy Invested or the length of tyme wind genies need to run to produce as much energy as the energy needed to make the genies, was something like 5 years. Given that there are still Jacobs wind turbines [wikipedia.org] still running after 50 years after the last ones were made, that's a pretty good ROEI.

    Ditto for the network connecting them to the people who want to use the electricity.

    That's the biggest problem to suppling enough electricity everywhere, almost no matter the source of energy. MIT's "Tech Review" published the article "Lifeline for Renewable Power [technologyreview.com]" going over this. Basically HVDC, High-voltage direct current [wikipedia.org], transmission lines would have to be strung up to distribute electricity from where it's produced to where it's used. It would also require a smart grid. Even without HVDC lines strung up, the power outages or blackouts in the Northeastern US/South Eastern Canada a few years ago showed the power grids need to be upgraded.

    Falcon

  • by Jurily (900488) <jurily@NETBSDgmail.com minus bsd> on Monday June 22, 2009 @10:05PM (#28433321)

    Ocean water a few degrees warmer in select areas destroys coastal ecosystems, what will the wind averaging a few MPH less do?

    For starters, there are a lot of plants that rely on the wind to distribute their reproduction material, not to mention the passats are responsible for the major oceanic currents which have a significant role in the climate of coastal areas around the world.

    I don't think we can gather enough processing power in my lifetime to do a reasonable simulation on a system that complex.

  • by mrmeval (662166) <mrmeval&gmail,com> on Monday June 22, 2009 @10:10PM (#28433357) Journal

    How much would it cost in energy and materials to build the global wind farm? Compare that to nuclear.

  • by Mt._Honkey (514673) on Monday June 22, 2009 @10:37PM (#28433621)

    Let alone, if we have nearly unlimited electricity what will we do with the heat?

    The energy in the wind would eventually dissipate as heat anyway (friction with land, ocean waves, etc). This is why the wind doesn't keep getting strong and stronger without limit. Wind power would actually lead to less net heat emission (0) than most other forms of energy production: fossil fuels and nuclear release energy previously stored away as something other than heat, geothermal speeds the heat release from the mantle, and solar decreases the earth's albedo. Hydro is less obvious... it seems heat neutral but it may even increase the albedo by forming new lakes.

    To put this all in perspective, the world power consumption is something like 15 TW. The total amount of solar power incident on the earth is about 130,000 TW.

  • by sanosuke001 (640243) on Monday June 22, 2009 @10:45PM (#28433715)
    Except it all comes from gravity. No gravity, no stars or planets. No stars or planets, no .

    That's one thing I always had an issue with over geothermal. What happens when we pump out all the heat from the planet? It solidifies and our magnetic field shuts off? (unless you believe that new thing about the ocean currents) I read somewhere that we'd have ~9000 years of geothermal at current world usage levels of energy. No, it wouldn't affect anyone we might ever know and who knows if we would last long enough to hit the limit. However, what if solidification of the core is shorter than that figure? Do we have the right to screw over possible future generations?

    The we-might-slow-down-all-the-wind issue is kind of the same but more short-term. The only viable source of energy is solar. It'll run out when the Earth is well beyond uninhabitable. We don't screw over anyone in the process. Well, unless you count mining for panel materials...
  • Re:All we need now (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tinkerghost (944862) on Monday June 22, 2009 @10:49PM (#28433751) Homepage
    Rooftop solar collection actually has 2 benefits in the summer - first is the obvious generation of electricity to run the AC/Lights/whatever. The second and often unobserved effect is to actually reduce the solar heating of the building involved. Proper ventilation combined with solar collection can reduce thermal heating by up to 30% (roof to wall ratios are important here) - ask how many building managers wouldn't want to see their cooling bills go down by that?
  • Re:Except (Score:4, Interesting)

    by godrik (1287354) on Monday June 22, 2009 @10:54PM (#28433805)
    Oh I read a nice study on the impact of high voltage lines on the health of people leaving below. The study showed a correlation between the presence of these lines and strange health diseases.... even when the lines where powered down... Nocebo effect is the worst thing to fight.
  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Monday June 22, 2009 @11:01PM (#28433851) Homepage
    This is not only unrealistic, it's ridiculous. If you excluse forested areas, urban areas, areas with year round ice and snow, you know what you're left with?

    Damn near all of Africa
    About one third of Canada
    Most of the US Great Plains
    Most of the US Southwest
    More than 75% of Mexico
    A good chunk of Argentina
    Much of Eastern Europe
    More than half of Russia (yes, more than half does not have year round snow/ice)
    Most of the middle east, including very large portions of Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia
    Most of central asia (Afgahnistan, Kazakstan, Western China out to the Gobi)
    Damn near all of Australia

    And the way we could provide ample energy? Cover every square inch of these areas with wind turbines. That's right - big ones too. the big ones that are tall enough to qualify as sky scrapers and are spaced about half a KM apart in a dense wind farm. The sheer size of this is absurd. It's so enormous it's hard to rap your mind around it. Does the world even have enough reserves of copper to make the windings?

    Oh yeah, then all the shores of the world.

    Yeah... the energy is there, it's just too low in density to make it worth recovering.
  • Aesthetics... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LunarEffect (1309467) on Monday June 22, 2009 @11:19PM (#28434063)
    I was reading about this dude who was building a single wind turbine in some rural area in the Swabian Alps in Germany. There was a huge protest against it, because a windmill like that would "spoil the countryside"...it ended with him having to cancel his plans, no windmill was allowed to be built.
    So yeah, I really like the idea of this article, but a lot of people are way too conservative to tolerate placing these things everywhere.
  • Environment (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gerardrj (207690) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @01:21AM (#28435047) Journal

    If we start taking huge amounts of energy out of the atmosphere in the form of wind turbines, what effect will this have on weather patterns?
    If you put up a wind farm in the midwest, does it alter the wind speeds enough to change the flow of the jet stream and ultimately change where rain falls, or average temperatures?
    The knee-jerk reaction of most people will be "it won't hurt anything". But we are talking about removing a huge amount of energy world-wide. Someone better study this before we start heading in that direction.

  • by Ex-MislTech (557759) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @01:45AM (#28435183)

    Peak oil has already been reached, peak gas and coal is a ways off,
    but the issue will arrive someday.

    The ocean is acting like a massive CO2 sink and large sections
    of the sea are seeing huge die offs of coral and that is the habitat
    for the fish.

    http://www.supereco.com/news/2009/03/11/coral-dying-a-fifth-already-gone/ [supereco.com]

    So we can start to move towards something else or the Earth is going
    to make some adjustments in our food supply we might not find real
    pleasant.

    You remove all saltwater fish from the world and the food problem we
    have now is going to look like small potatoes.

  • by Eivind (15695) <eivindorama@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @04:26AM (#28436105) Homepage

    A single candle is a little optimistic, but sure it's realistic to heat homes in all but the most extreme of climates using nothing more than body-heat plus the waste-heat from machinery we use for other purposes (such as computers, televisions, fridges, lights and dishwashers)

    A one-family detatched house (apartment-blocks need less due to less external walls) built to standard norwegian building-code, requires 100Kwh/year pro square meter, for an entire year. That works out to an average capacity of 23W if you assume that heating is only needed for half the year. But even a 15% increase in building-costs is enough to build a house that requires only about 30Kwh/year rather than 100, and that means you're down to 7W/m^2

    That means a family-home with 140 square meters need aproximately 1KW to stay warm. Human body-heat is around 100W, so a family of 3-4 will provide 300-400W of body-heat. Add in the fridge, a tv and a dishwasher, and the house stays warm with more or less zero active heating.

    Most such houses still have a single space-heater somewhere central, for use on the 5 coldest days in the year, and for making the house quickly comfortable after say a 2-week christmas-vacation.

  • by Kierthos (225954) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @05:02AM (#28436263) Homepage

    Congratulations, you're setting a new standard for dense. Not only did you not read the article, you didn't even read the Slashdot summary.

    Using [these] criteria the researchers found that wind energy could not only supply all of the world's energy requirements, but it could provide over forty times the world's current electrical consumption and over five times the global use of total energy needs."

    Over 40 times the electrical consumption, and over five times the global use of total energy needs. I'm repeating that part because it's important.

    That alone says we'd only have to put up one-fortieth of "covering the entire globe in massive obelisks" to meet all of the current electrical consumption, and it's not even the entire globe because of the areas removed based on the criteria they set. And let's face it, even that won't happen, because of the whole "not in my backyard" syndrome.

  • by OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @07:33AM (#28437017) Homepage

    They also ignore the unknown effects. What's being proposed is actually "destroying" 2.5% of all global wind (or 20% if oil is to be replaced too).

    And what about all the animals dependant on all sorts of wind ? All the plants ? Obviously 2.5% reduction in energy reduces wind speeds by nearly a factor 1.5. That's great but it means plant seedlings will have less range. Much less range. That will mean the death of all plant life on islands that are too far offshore, and become out of range. Birds will not be able to fly as high, or as fast. What will the impact be on those birds ? What about the impact on their prey ? (One thing that has happened in the past, for example, is that rats and other virmin tunnelled below dams when their predators disappeared, who subsequently breached).

    Furthermore, the waves on the ocean will drop. Wave heights on beaches will drop along with the reduction in wind power available (unlike eb and flood, the actual waves are created mostly by winds). Wave power will lose potential.

    What will all the weather phenomena that are created by winds ? What, exactly, happens if El Nino stops ? The Mistral ? All of these will be affected, and only God knows how. Those phenomena are involved in massive climatic events like the pacific oscillation. If one of those even slightly falters for merely a few months, it will make Al Gore's personal fantasies of global warming impact look utterly insignificant.

    Needless to say, those are only global effects. In some locations, effects will be hugely magnified due to all sorts of unforeseen and unknown dependencies that nature will turn out to have.

    I personally fear it will turn out that using a significant amount of wind power will make people compare coal mining to the manna of the old testament : a gift from God. (the same goes, obviously, for solar power : if humans are using 0.000000000001% like today, great, no impact. But will the same be true if we're using 10% ? I doubt it).

    Face it people : the only thing that can make cities self-sufficient is nuclear power. And, pray tell, why exactly do you think all oil-producing nations are building nuclear power plants in the middle of sun-drowned deserts, with winds that every now and then literally blow small villages away, sometimes straight into the sea ? We don't have much time to build a number of extra nuclear power plants in the US to stave off an electricity and oil shortage.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @07:55AM (#28437123)

    Except it all comes from gravity. No gravity, no stars or planets. No stars or planets, no .

    The Earth steals energy away from the moon's orbit by way of negative tidal acceleration [wikipedia.org]. Basically this means that the moon is slowly drifting away from us because the friction of the tides steals angular momentum. I'm not even sure how to back-of-the-envelope calculate how much energy is involved in the moon orbiting the Earth, but I'd wager that you could absorb all of the friction and turn it into usable energy and still have the moon moving away from us at less than 4ms / 100 years (double what it is now).

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @08:56AM (#28437555)

    The US is unable to build inexpensive nuclear, and it's a political problem. Between the NIMBY and BANANA groups, it's insanely expensive to get a new nuclear plant certified, which is why there haven't been any new ones built in decades. They have unreasonable, extremely expensive, conditions placed on them. For instance, many areas of Washington D.C. don't meet the radiation exposure requirements nuclear plants are held to (thanks to all the granite used in the monuments).

    It's unworkable in the US because there are vocal troublemakers who don't want it workable. That is all.

  • by benjamindees (441808) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @09:48AM (#28438125) Homepage

    Um, no it isn't. And you're either spreading disinformation or seriously retarded if you think so. Did you attend government schools? The GP seriously asked what "carbon" sequestration was, and so far has just gotten a bunch of half-joking bullshit replies.

    We don't dig up CO2 out of the ground. So burying it is not the "opposite" of anything. We dig up coal (carbon) out of the ground. Burning carbon and oxygen produces CO2. "Carbon" sequestration is burying that CO2 in the ground. They are not at all opposites.

    CO2 is an end-product. It is an energy sink. When buried in the ground, it is a liability, not an asset like coal. The process is not reversable. This is not pedantry but basic middle-school level chemistry that shouldn't even have to be discussed on /. if not for idiots like you confusing the issue with blatant falsehoods.

  • by xtracto (837672) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @10:15AM (#28438435) Journal

    It bothers me when people talk about our energy "needs", as though without some particular number of number of Watts, the world ends.

    Are they better considered our energy "wants at a given price point"?

    When I hear "need", but don't hear a "for what" part soon after, I get suspicious. Was the term "energy needs" a rhetorical device introduced by governments or energy suppliers to distract from the fact that we can live on varying amounts of energy consumption.

    You can get an idea of yours here [earthday.net]

  • CNN article (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wfeick (591200) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @12:05PM (#28440093)

    A good discussion of scale that puts things in perspective was published on CNN not long ago...

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/05/13/mackay.energy/index.html?iref=newssearch [cnn.com]

  • by Sj0 (472011) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @12:07PM (#28440117) Homepage Journal

    Let me tell you something about common sense.

    Many years ago, I weighed 400lbs. I managed to very quickly get my weight down to 160lbs, and I've kept it around 200lbs for years afterwards.

    The first step in the process was NOT buying a bunch of stuff with "diet" slapped next to the name. The first step in the process was figuring out what was going on in my body, figuring out how weight loss and gain happened, figuring out energy inputs and outputs, and building a plan that would get the results I wanted.

    Along the way, lots of people tried to give me "common sense" that was misguided or just plain wrong. People would give me muffins, nuts, orange juice, and other high calorie foods that had no place in my plan. Before I'd even hit my safe BMI range, people would beg me to stop, saying I'd lost too much weight and I was going to kill myself (Keep in mind my final weight was exactly in my BMI range).

    That's what all this renewable stuff is. It's 'diet energy'. It's almost completely meaningless without looking at the whole picture, like I did when I was dieting.

    If you don't think that putting billions of wind turbines anywhere we can stick one will have a bigger ecological impact than coal mining, you're not thinking hard enough, and all the mods modding me down for saying this simple and reasonable truth need to take a long look in the mirror.

  • by Sj0 (472011) on Tuesday June 23, 2009 @04:50PM (#28445031) Homepage Journal

    Who is brainwashed here?

    Here in the north, there are massive protests over hydroelectric dams.

    Hydroelectric dams.

    One of the single most practical and environmentally-safe forms of electricty in existence, and we're hearing protests over a few dams.

    Where I live, whenever someone turns on a light, it's hydroelectricity that powers the bulb. Not coal, not oil, not natural gas. Water rushing through a turbine. There are huge protests. It's incredibly controversial.

    True environmentalism isn't some simple quick fix. You can't just start sucking up diet energy and hope that'll make the problem go away. You need to realise that we live in a global ecosystem that's impossible to live in without changing it, and we need to figure out the best way to move towards a truly sustainable existence. This existence will NOT be some quick fix that'll let a few companies get rich quick. If you want to fuck the environent up beyond recognition, go ahead and buy into every single 'get green quick' scheme you can find.

    Of course, I'm one of the engineers you'll need to rely on to actually get these schemes to work. Every day I work at increasing energy efficiency, so unlike the brainwashed proles on both sides of the debate, I have some idea of what's involved.

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