Science

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David Zalubowski/AP

Slowing Winds Threaten the Value of Wind Power

June 14, 2009 08:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
New research indicates that wind speeds in parts of the United States have decreased by as much as 10 percent due to climate change. Sadly, the primary reason environmentalists embraced wind power was to stave off climate change.

Slowing Winds Threaten the Value of Wind Power

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According to a joint study from Iowa and Indiana Universities, “wind speeds have been noticeably slowing since 1973, especially in the Midwest and the East,” reported the AP. Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Illinois display the phenomenon, while Texas and the Northern Plains are experiencing less of the effects.

Sarah Pryor, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Indiana and lead researcher, said, “The stations bordering the Great Lakes do seem to have experienced the greatest changes,” the AP reported.  She explained that having less ice cover on lakes makes air travel more slowly across their surface, according to Scientific American.

Eugene Takle, a co-researcher and professor of atmospheric science, explained that climate change occurs as the two poles get warmer and the temperature difference between them and the equator diminishes. When this happens, the barometric pressure drops as well. The greater the difference in air pressure, the more wind that blows.

Both Pryor and Takle said their results aren’t entirely conclusive. One problem is that tools used for calculating wind levels have changed over the years. Other experts are also skeptical. Although research in Australia and Europe seems to corroborate their results, climate computer models do not.

According to Pryor a 10 percent drop in peak winds is tantamount to a 30 percent change in energy production.

The report will be published in the journal Geophysical Research in August.

Related Topic: More Wind in England

While the United States ponders the potentially disastrous problem of less and slower wind, in April the Guardian reported that the southern part of England was getting more wind, providing offshore wind farms with “a much needed boost.” A study from Atmos Consulting said the area wind speed had increased enough that it could produce 50 percent more energy than previously thought possible.

Background: wind energy

The Global Wind Power Report published in 2008 explained that fossil fuels, such as oil and natural gas, compose two-thirds of the world’s energy, Red Orbit reported. However, wind energy is considered the “fastest growing energy source,” and with the cost of production steadily decreasing, could grow by 70 percent in five years.

Opinion & Analysis: The impact of less wind and conflicting studies.

Keith Johnson writing for The Wall Street Journal Blog says that if the study’s claims are true, having less wind could affect industries in a number of ways. Wind generation might plummet, predicting wind speeds on a local scale could become big business, and companies that make wind turbines could see more for those that use low and medium speed wind.

Mark Tapscott of the Washington Examiner points out that other research claims that global warming is causing tornadoes and hurricanes. Tapscott asks,“[Isn’t this] a flagrant violation of the principle of non-contradiction, that is, that A cannot also be non-A?”

FindingDulcinea’s “Nature Wages War” series cites a study conducted by Mark Saunders, professor of climate prediction at University College London. Saunders determined that a 1-degree increase in water temperature over the summer led to a 49 percent increase in hurricanes and a 31 percent increase in tropical storms.

Reference: Global warming and climate change

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