Feeds

Look out! PEAK WIND is COMING, warns top Harvard physicist

Last out of the windpower future turn out the lights … Oh

Top three mobile application threats

Peak Wind

Keith and Adams are referring to Archer and Jacobson's paper last year, in which they suggested that a "practical" windpower system of the future - employing 4 million wind towers spread all round the world to avoid damage to the environment (!) - might yield average output of 7.5 terawatts over time.

Professor David Keith.

As we pointed out at the time - we not being top physicists here at the Reg, but at least knowing what a Watt is - this is actually far less energy than the human race now requires, and wildly less than the amount of energy it would require if it were to build and maintain a colossal worldwide grid of enormous steel and carbon towers sunk into heavy concrete foundations along with the necessary associated world-spanning interconnectors, grid extensions, transport access into remote wilderness etc etc.

Harvard uni now informs us:

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.

As opposed to the 4+ watts assumed by Archer and Jacobson. In other words we'll be hitting Peak Wind a lot sooner than anyone thought. Archer and Jacobson's ridiculous unbuildable world wind project - which seemed likely to cost substantially more than the entire human race's economic output - would actually produce as little as one-eighth of what they think: and that was only a quarter of the amount of power that the human race might reasonably ask for (ie, say two-thirds of what a present-day European uses for everyone). So it would be able to provide about 3 per cent of global energy requirements, or well under a terawatt.

And we have to bear in mind that in the real world things are much worse still for windy dreams. Professors Keith and Adams go on:

Total wind power capacity can — of course — be very large if one assumes that turbines are placed over the entire land surface or even over the land and ocean surface, but while these geophysical limits are scientifically interesting their relevance to energy policy is unclear.

More policy-driven wind power capacity estimates have restricted the area considered ... Yet these estimates have used power production densities that are several times larger than the wind power production limit of around 1 W m-2 ... It is therefore plausible that wind power capacity may be limited to an extent that is relevant to energy policy.

It should be made clear that Professor Keith is starting from the position that global warming is still definitely on (at some point, it has been stalled for well over a decade) and that humanity must go carbon-free or anyway carbon-very-low within a lifetime, generating "several tens of terawatts" of low to nil-carbon power on that timescale. The professor is merely pointing out that wind certainly can't do anything like the whole job in that scenario, and it may not actually be able to do very much at all.

“It’s worth asking about the scalability of each potential energy source," says the prof, "whether it can supply, say, 3 terawatts, which would be 10 percent of our global energy need, or whether it’s more like 0.3 terawatts and 1 percent."

It's definitely looking as though we would be hitting Peak Wind down at the low end of that range. And with wind very much the poster child of renewable power - it is cheap, scalable and practical compared to the other methods - that would seem to be the effective end for the dream of a renewables-powered future for humanity.

Professors Keith and Adams' paper can be read in full for free here courtesy of the journal Environmental Research Letters, which is distributing it under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Licence. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Opportunity selfie: Martian winds have given the spunky ol' rover a spring cleaning
Power levels up 70 per cent as the rover keeps on truckin'
LOHAN and the amazing technicolor spaceplane
Our Vulture 2 livery is wrapped, and it's les noix du mutt
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
KILLER ROBOTS, DNA TAMPERING and PEEPING CYBORGS: the future looks bright!
Americans optimistic about technology despite being afraid of EVERYTHING
R.I.P. LADEE: Probe smashes into lunar surface at 3,600mph
Swan dive signs off successful science mission
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.