Watch out for too much wind

Many sustainable investors envision propellers generating clean energy at wind farms dotting every hill in sight. But researchers are warning that too many wind farms could harm the sustainability of the popular renewable resource.

Writing in the journal Nature Energy, the scientists found a “wake effect” that caused wind farms to decrease the amount of power generated downwind at other turbines.

“Just as upstream water users can knowingly or unknowingly impose additional costs downstream, the same effect is in play here,” said University of Colorado at Boulder Economist Daniel Kaffine, a study co-author, in a press release.

The research is cause for concern. Wind facility wakes can extend as far as 40 kilometres. The researchers found that 90 per cent of almost 1,000 wind farms in the United States were within 40 kilometres of other facilities.

The good news, however, is that the research shows that wake effects predictable.

The wake effect was most potent when winds were in a specific direction and temperatures cooled. It still only occurred less than 4 per cent of the time. Computer simulations determined that energy generation dipped by around 8 per cent when the effect was strong.

Government officials, businesses and others could use this information as they expand to help phase out fossil fuels, the researchers said.

“This work argues for more thoughtful deployment of wind energy,” said Julie Lundquist, a University of Colorado at Boulder atmospheric scientist who was the study’s lead author.

The United States National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy funded the study.


Image credit: Michael Reinhart via Flickr

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