The Heat Is Online

Survey: 20 percent of Available Wind Could Power the World

Study: Wind Could Meet Global Energy Needs

Discovery News, May, 2005


A new survey of wind power around the globe has found there's ample energy for all humanity blowing around us.


By gathering together more than 8,000 wind records on every continent, researchers Christina Archer and Mark Jacobson of Stanford University in California have created a set of world wind-power resource maps that reveal a barely tapped 72 terawatts of power - 40 times the amount of electrical power used by all countries in the year 2000.


If just 20 percent of the estimated 72 terawatts of wind power were tapped, said Archer, it would satisfy all the world's energy needs.


A single terawatt is enough power to light up 10 billion 100-watt light bulbs.


And there is undoubtedly a lot more wind power out there, said Archer. "We tend to believe our results are kind of conservative," she said. "Many continents are actually lacking wind data over large areas."


The study, along with maps of the continents with their high-speed wind zones, appears in the May issue of the Journal of Geophysical Research - Atmospheres.


The most wind-charged sites are along the North Sea in Europe, around the southern tip of South America, the island of Tasmania, the Great Lakes region of North America, and the northeastern and northwestern coasts of North America.


The good news is that wind generators are being built at record rates, Archer and Jacobson report.


Over the past five years wind power systems have grown at an annual rate of 34 percent. That makes it the fastest-growing electrical  power source.


"We are kind of reassured that the numbers they have come up with are at least as good as those produced in the past,"  said Mike Robinson, deputy director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Wind Technology Center in Colorado. "There's a tremendous amount of wind."


What's really needed, said Robinson, is a whole lot more and better real data from the ground to the heights of turbines.


That would allow for a more detailed understanding of the resource, and help engineers build better wind turbines.


Archer and Jacobson used estimates. They made data from different instruments and different heights stand shoulder-to-shoulder by recalculating each wind velocity so that they were all equivalent to winds at 80 meters, or 300  feet, above the ground everywhere.


That's the hub-height of modern, giant wind turbines that are becoming more common. These taller, slower-moving wind turbines are more efficient and create fewer hazards for birds.


Wind power currently accounts for just a little more than a half

percent of the world's electrical power.


The shortfall is the result of two things, says Archer: The lack of

wind data to help people properly place generators and the misperception that wind is unreliable.


It's also not easy for utility companies even in windy places to

break the fossil fuel habit, said Matt Baker,  executive director of Environment Colorado, speaking to the High Country News earlier this month.


"It's so hard for people to back off this obsession with coal and

instead focus on efficiency and new technology," said Baker.