June 22, 2009
To estimate the earth’s capacity for wind power, the researchers first sectioned the globe into areas of approximately 3,300 square kilometers (1,274 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.
Turning to the world’s two largest carbon emitters, China and the United States, the researchers found that wind power has the potential to easily supply both nations.
Windmill for pumping water in Kenya
Wind turbines for power generation in Maui.
Expanding their view to the top ten carbon emitters, the researchers found that Russia, Canada, and the United States (in this order) had the greatest capacity for wind power. However, they note that much of the area available for wind power in Russia and Canada is far from any cities, making their construction costly. In addition, the authors note that the public may oppose wind turbines in particular areas, especially remote, ecologically sensitive regions. Still, they conclude that “despite these limitations, it is clear that wind power could make a significant contribution to the demand for electricity” in most high carbon emitting countries.
Xi Lu, Michael McElroy, and Juha Kiviluoma. Global potential for wind generated electricity. PNAS Early Online Edition for the week of June 22, 2009. doi/10.1073/pnas.0904101106
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