Potential climatic impacts and reliability of very large-scale wind farms
- Center for Global Change Science and Joint Program of the Science and Policy of Global Change, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Abstract. Meeting future world energy needs while addressing climate change requires large-scale deployment of low or zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emission technologies such as wind energy. The widespread availability of wind power has fueled substantial interest in this renewable energy source as one of the needed technologies. For very large-scale utilization of this resource, there are however potential environmental impacts, and also problems arising from its inherent intermittency, in addition to the present need to lower unit costs. To explore some of these issues, we use a three-dimensional climate model to simulate the potential climate effects associated with installation of wind-powered generators over vast areas of land or coastal ocean. Using wind turbines to meet 10% or more of global energy demand in 2100, could cause surface warming exceeding 1 °C over land installations. In contrast, surface cooling exceeding 1 °C is computed over ocean installations, but the validity of simulating the impacts of wind turbines by simply increasing the ocean surface drag needs further study. Significant warming or cooling remote from both the land and ocean installations, and alterations of the global distributions of rainfall and clouds also occur. These results are influenced by the competing effects of increases in roughness and decreases in wind speed on near-surface turbulent heat fluxes, the differing nature of land and ocean surface friction, and the dimensions of the installations parallel and perpendicular to the prevailing winds. These results are also dependent on the accuracy of the model used, and the realism of the methods applied to simulate wind turbines. Additional theory and new field observations will be required for their ultimate validation. Intermittency of wind power on daily, monthly and longer time scales as computed in these simulations and inferred from meteorological observations, poses a demand for one or more options to ensure reliability, including backup generation capacity, very long distance power transmission lines, and onsite energy storage, each with specific economic and/or technological challenges.