Feeds

Prof: Global windfarm could power entire human race

Provided most of it remains in misery, that is

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Analysis Harvard University boffins have published an analysis of how much energy the human race could possibly produce from wind power, and we thought we'd have a bit of a play around with their numbers.

Career Harvard enviro-prof Michael McElroy, assisted by Xi Lu and Juha Kiviluoma (now working in Finland) published their paper Global Potential for wind power in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (free pdf). They say:

A network of land-based 2.5-megawatt (MW) turbines restricted to nonforested, ice-free, nonurban areas operating at as little as 20% of their rated capacity could supply >40 times current worldwide consumption of electricity, >5 times total global use of energy in all forms.

This statement has been widely taken to mean that "Wind Farms could supply planet's power", or even "wind power could provide for the entire world's current and future energy needs".

So can it? Bottom line, according to the Harvard trio, how much energy can the planet Earth possibly generate from wind?

Well, McElroy and Co say that if wind farms were be built absolutely everywhere onshore they possibly can be where the turbines can operate at a load factor of 20 per cent or better - that is, over time they produce an average 20 per cent of their maximum rated capacity - you get a grand worldwide total of 690 petawatt-hours every year. At the moment, people don't generally bother building a windfarm unless they think they'll get 30 per cent, but no matter.

Six hundred and ninety PWh is certainly a lot of energy. Five times the present-day human usage, as the profs say, sounds reasonable.

But hold on. There are 6.7 billion people in the world - and counting. The only reason they get by with a measly 140 PWh a year or so is that the majority live incredibly unpleasant lives. Half a billion in sub-Saharan Africa alone have no access to grid electricity at all, for instance. Electricity, roads, rails, industries, homes, laundry, food, water, welfare states, medicine, education, coolness for the hot and warmth for the cold - even the smaller things like IT and aviation - it all needs energy and plenty of it.

Profligate powerhog Americans, indeed, each use a hefty 91 megawatt-hours annually (according to Professor J C MacKay of Cambridge University). Even relatively restrained Europeans burn through 46 MWh/year.

If everyone on Earth aspires one day to live at the sort of level Americans do now, and assuming the world's population stabilises at 7bn, we're looking at global demand of 637 petawatt-hours - almost all of Professor McElroy's best-possible global output for onshore wind. Even a European lifestyle would gobble half the total possible production, leaving a rather uncomfortable margin for mistakes, future progress etc.

However, Prof McElroy then adds in bigger 3.6 megawatt offshore turbines on every bit of sea where they could do load factors of better than 20 per cent. He's not wildly unrealistic, though: he sternly restricts himself to waters less than 200m deep [!] and within 50 miles of the shore. (The most heavily-trafficked seas of all; but pass on.) That bumps the total up to 840 petawatt-hours annually.

Surely we're there now? Provided the world's population doesn't triple, everyone alive could live at European levels of energy consumption just on wind power. Problems solved, assuming we can persuade the Americans to live in apartments more often and get out of their cars now and then.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
LOHAN packs bags for SPACEPORT AMERICA!
Spanish launch goes titsup, we're off to the US of A
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.