Climate change will reduce wind power: Footprint of wind power across U.S. expected to decline

December 27, 2017

A new study from the University of Colorado shows carbon emissions could reduce how much wind is available for making electricity, with the strongest impact in the central United States.

The study’s lead author, Kris Karnauskas, assistant professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado, cites the rapidly warming Arctic for a decrease in wind power.

His research shows that, depending on the level of carbon emissions in the atmosphere, the average amount of wind power in the central U.S. could drop up to 10 percent by 2050, and 18 percent by the year 2100.

But Karnauskas doesn’t think that should mean less attention to wind energy.

“The changes in wind power that we’re predicting are not trivial, but even in the most severe cases, the potential wind power will not vanish,” he stresses. “So, wind power should still be considered an important part of the portfolio of renewable investments.”

Karnauskas says one way to address the predicted change is to curtail our reliance on fossil fuel.

Wind power is now part of many nations’ strategies towards achieving the carbon reduction targets in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

Other studies show wind farms around the globe have increased the cumulative power of wind by about 22 percent since 2006.

The University of Colorado study was published in Nature Geoscience.

Karnauskas says any successful efforts to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could alter the study’s predictions – and he hopes that will inspire innovators to do their part.

“It might also even be inspiration for technology to become more efficient,” he states. “If the wind power itself may decrease, you know one way to actually make up for that would be to make a turbine 10 percent more efficient.”

Karnauskas notes scientists have always known wind is variable, and changes year to year in any region.

But he says the new research also shows wind is affected by the climate itself, and that means people will need to work harder if they want wind power to make a significant difference for the energy grid.

“This study is about one source of energy and how it can be sensitive to the climate state,” he points out. “But then there’s always us, and we can reduce our demand for energy a little bit as well. It’s painting a picture of a complicated battlefield, which is climate change.”

And while the study predicts a reduction in wind over the U.S., it shows a significant increase in wind for tropical areas and the Southern Hemisphere.

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Category: Agriculture