An Energy Policy That Completely Blows
Could we rid the world of the need for environmentally damaging fossil fuels by using just wind power for our energy needs? New research could be the wind beneath the wings of the wind energy economy.
According to a new study led by Kate Marvel, there is enough potential energy in wind to meet the entire world’s energy demands with room to spare. As anyone who has been caught flat-footed by a stiff breeze knows, the air around us contains a great deal of potential energy. Over the last 5-10 years, thanks to evolving technologies and incentives like the Wind Energy Tax Credit, wind energy has become the alternative energy source, other than hydro electric, most economically competitive with coal, historically the cheapest and most abundant sources of energy in the US.
The researchers found that if you add up all of the potential atmospheric wind energy, which can be harnessed using kite-like technologies like the rendering on the right, and surface sources of surface wind energy, which depends on using turbines like the one below, there are about 2200 Terawatts (TW) of potential wind energy on the planet or about 120 times more than 18 TW of electricity the world consumes today. This is a staggering prospect for a future energy economy completely independent from fossil fuels. However, the researchers concluded that with an optimum distribution of about four million wind turbines throughout the planet, representing a practical prospect for long term wind energy infrastructures, there are only about 7.5 TW of exploitable wind energy on the planet – just over 40% of the energy consumed in the world today.
This study shows that wind energy can be a viable and large scale component of the future energy economy, but cannot be the sole source of energy in the future. We will still need to find up to 60% of our energy from other sources, more as global energy demands increase. The study also cautions that implementing wind energy on a scale to take full advantage of the 2200 TW of potential energy would likely have significant environmental impacts like reducing wind speeds, decreasing planetary temperature and reducing the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. However, these effects are negligible if a lower amount of energy, around 7.5 TW, were extracted.
As Jews, it is our responsibility to care for the earth and leave its diversity and environmental integrity intact for future generations. With each passing year, we are seeing climatic changes that are increasingly disturbing and will produce mounting long term costs for ourselves and future generations. Despite the constant hum of voices pressing for a status quo national energy policy that does not adequately protect our environment, we need to continue to build on our renewable energy sources and decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. However, we cannot forget that the environment is a complex system and no single renewable source will be sufficient to cure us of our fossil fuel dependence. Nevertheless, we are not doing nearly enough to exploit renewable resources like wind and are a long way from having to worry about deleterious effects of excessive use of any one of them.
Map of potential wind energy courtesy of the US Department of Energy.
Render of a High Altitude Wind Turbine. Image courtesy sky wind power.
Kahaewa Wind Farm image courtesy of UK Shale Summit.