Massive Wind Farms Across The Midwest May Actually Warm The Earth As Humans Struggle To Fight Climate Change

Monday, 08 October 2018 - 12:05PM
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Earth
Monday, 08 October 2018 - 12:05PM
Massive Wind Farms Across The Midwest May Actually Warm The Earth As Humans Struggle To Fight Climate Change
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When it comes to the struggle against climate change, wind farms have been the poster child for low-impact, environmentally friendly energy sources. However, new research from Harvard University reveals that creating huge wind farms across the world might actually cause an increase in temperatures – but the full picture is a little bit more complicated than that.

Recently, a few different research teams from across the US used computer simulations to model what would happen if you covered the Sahara Desert in massive solar and wind farms. The answer was higher rainfall, higher minimum temperatures, and a whole lot of energy: 82 terawatts, almost four times the global energy demand. The higher temperatures projected in the simulation were due primarily to the phenomenon of air mixing, in which the turbines stir up the air closer to the ground and the air at higher elevations, leading to warmer air being dredged upward. The effect is negligible during the day, but can have a bigger impact at night.

The recent study from Harvard mirrored those findings. According to the researchers, the US could generate enough power to meet all of its energy needs if it created a giant wind farm that stretched across the Midwest... But the consequence could be raising the temperature of local areas and the US as a whole. The increase could be about 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit locally, and 0.36 degrees nationally.



Meanwhile, if the entire world switched over all their energy production to wind farms, something interesting would happen... According to Ars Technica, "In that hypothetical scenario, the avoided warming in the US in 2100 would actually be roughly equivalent to the added local warmth caused by the wind turbines."

There are a few crucial differences between the warming caused by these turbines and the kind caused by climate change. For one, climate change keeps building the heat over centuries, getting worse over time. Second, climate change can lead to increased temperatures in the oceans, leading to effects like melting ice caps and reef bleaching. The list goes on, but the comparison between turbine-driven heating and greenhouse gases isn't one-to-one, though the experience may be similar at ground level. According to the study itself:

"Wind beats fossil fuels under any reasonable measure of long-term environmental impacts per unit of energy generated...While these impacts differ from the climate impacts of [greenhouse gases] in many important respects, they should not be neglected."
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