Harvard study shows that wind power could cause more warming than coal

As reported by James Temple in the MIT Technology Review:

A new study by a pair of Harvard researchers finds that a high amount of wind power could mean more climate warming, at least regionally and in the immediate decades ahead. The paper raises serious questions about just how much the United States or other nations should look to wind power to clean up electricity systems.

The study, published in the journal Joule, found that if wind power supplied all US electricity demands, it would warm the surface of the continental United States by 0.24 °C. That could significantly exceed the reduction in US warming achieved by decarbonizing the nation’s electricity sector this century, which would be around 0.1 °C.

“If your perspective is the next 10 years, wind power actually has—in some respects—more climate impact than coal or gas,” coauthor David Keith, a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard, said in a statement. “If your perspective is the next thousand years, then wind power is enormously cleaner than coal or gas.”

The core problem is that wind turbines generate electricity by extracting energy out of the air, slowing down wind and otherwise altering “the exchange of heat, moisture, and momentum between the surface and the atmosphere,” the study explains. That can produce some level of warming. The new research suggests we can’t put too many turbines to close together or the whole group become far less efficient. That means we need 5 – 20 times as much land as previously thought (at least as thought by academics) Read more