Around 4 million wind turbines, the majority located over water, could deliver half of the world’s power demand according to researchers from Stanford University.
In a new study exploring the potential of wind power, the researchers developed a sophisticated weather model to work out if there is enough wind power on Earth to satisfy global human energy demand.
The findings, published in PNAS, reveal despite the finite limits of wind power, it could easily satisfy global energy demand by 2030.
“We’re not saying "put turbines everywhere,” but we have shown that there is no fundamental barrier to obtaining half or even several times the world’s all-purpose power from wind by 2030. The potential is there, if we can build enough turbines,“ said Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Delaware.
Two previous studies have said wind power potential falls short of such a goal partly because of turbines stealing too much wind energy from other turbines, however the Stanford researchers say their computer model provides a more sophisticated look than previously possible.
"Modelling the climate consequences of wind turbines is a complex science,” Professor Jacobson said. “This software allows that level of detail for the first time.”
However Gus Nathan, director of the Centre for Energy Technology at the University of Adelaide, said the main challenge was not the availability of wind, but rather the cost of integration into the supply-demand system.
“Cost-effective energy storage and/or management systems are presently a greater barrier than resource availability,” Professor Nathan said.
But John Andrews, associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at RMIT University said the study is a significant one, and adds to other research from Stanford showing that after applying strong energy efficiency measures across all consuming sectors it is technically feasible for economically competitive renewables to meet the entire global energy demand.
Professor Andrews said given uncertainties concerning the continued use of coal and natural gas with carbon dioxide capture and storage, and the great risks associated with nuclear fission reactors, there are strong arguments that the only truly sustainable way to meet 2050 targets for reducing emissions by 80% is through a strategy based predominantly on energy productivity and renewables.
“Wind power at good sites is already competitive with coal-fired power generation at relatively low carbon prices,” Professor Andrews said.
He added that the next step needed was for researchers to apply Stanford’s wind energy model to particular countries to establish the best wind regions within those countries.