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article imageWind farms could take a serious hit from global warming

By Karen Graham     Dec 12, 2017 in Science
New climate modeling data predicts that climate changes due to global warming will weaken winds that blow across much of the Northern hemisphere, possibly leading to big drops in clean wind energy.
The use of wind power generation is increasing at about 22 percent a year, with much of it in the Northern Hemisphere. But climate researchers out of Boulder, Colorado are warning the winds everyone relies on for power generation will weaken within the next 100 years.
According to a paper released by Kristopher Karnauskas, Julie K. Lindquist and Lei Zhang on December 11, 2017, in the journal, Nature Geoscience, warmer temperatures at the North Pole will continue to reduce the temperature difference between the Arctic and the Equator, affecting wind power.
Atmospheric changes and the winds
When climate change is mentioned, most people immediately think of carbon dioxide levels, and temperature and precipitation, although ocean acidification and rising sea levels are also brought to mind. But the wind? It has been left out of most conversations regarding climate change.
Potential global wind power in coming years. Top images represent the next 40 years  bottom images r...
Potential global wind power in coming years. Top images represent the next 40 years, bottom images represent the next 80 years. Left images represent lower emissions, right images represent higher emissions scenario. Red areas are wind power hotspots, blue areas are reductions. White areas are uncertain.
Nature Geoscience/Kris Karnauskas/CIRES
But you may be surprised to know that scientists have been studying and publishing papers warning of the effects of global warming on wind patterns since at least 2004. And it is generally known that air circulates on a large scale depending on the temperature differences between the equator and the more extreme Polar Regions. This circulation drives atmospheric energy in the form of winds and storm systems.
However, all the studies agreed on one important consideration - As global warming continues unabated, the polar ice caps will continue to melt along with the increasing temperatures, resulting in a decrease in wind power in some parts of the world. Basically, a warmer Arctic means less of a temperature difference and therefore weaker winds across the central United States, the United Kingdom, the northern Middle East, and parts of Asia.
“Our results don’t show the wind power goes to zero, it’s a reduction of 10 percent over broad regions,” says Kristopher Karnauskas, a climate scientist at Colorado University Boulder and lead author of the new study. He goes on to explain that instability between regions in the Northern Hemisphere drive the winds.
Blue areas represent a drop in wind power between 2020 and 2040; wind farming in the Northern hemisp...
Blue areas represent a drop in wind power between 2020 and 2040; wind farming in the Northern hemisphere may see reduced yields in the coming decades due to climate change.
Nature Geoscience/Credit: Kris Karnauskas/CIRES
"That’s why we have a constant parade of weather systems," says Karnauskas. "They are there because of this contrast in energy between the equator and the pole. Because the Arctic is warming so much faster than the rest of the world, you can imagine how it changes the gradient."
In 2010, Diandong Ren, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Texas at Austin published research that indicated the wind power available over China, at the average height of a wind turbine, is expected to decrease by about 14 percent within this century.
How the study was done
Karnauskas and his colleagues used an industry wind turbine power curve with simulations of high and low future emissions scenarios in an ensemble of ten fully coupled global climate models to investigate large-scale changes in wind power across the globe.
Mitsubishi Electric s floating LIDAR applications Measures and visualizes the wind condition of the ...
Mitsubishi Electric's floating LIDAR applications Measures and visualizes the wind condition of the wind farm to: - adjust the yaw angle of the wind turbines - patrol the wind conditions.
Mitsubishi Electric
Each of the 10 climate models used a different level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations by 2050 and 2100. The researcher's calculations reveal decreases in wind power across the Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes and increases across the tropics and Southern Hemisphere, with substantial regional variations.
"Europe is a big question mark," says Karnauskas. "We have no idea what we'll see there. That's almost scary, given that Europe is producing a lot of wind energy already."
The researchers also say their initial research is a roadmap for further study, which could assist countries in deciding where to invest in wind technology as they try to meet their renewable energy goals. This is especially relevant today because the U.S. Department of Energy is providing $20 million in funding for R&D in offshore wind projects.
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