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Harvard Research Suggests: Wind Power Could Cause Warming Effect

Harvard Research Suggests: Wind Power Could Cause Warming EffectHarvard Research Suggests: Wind Power Could Cause Warming Effect

While wind power undoubtedly beats fossil fuel-powered energy in environmental measures, large-scale wind power deployment could cause rising temperatures, a new study by Harvard researchers suggests.

While wind power reduces emissions, its climate impacts—if wind plants were to generate 100% of US electricity demand—are not negligible, according to Harvard postdoctoral fellow and first author Lee Miller, Oil Price reported.

The researchers modeled a scenario in which wind power were to provide all the present US electricity demand and covered one-third of the continental US with enough wind turbines to meet that demand. 

Using a standard weather-forecasting model, the researchers found that this scenario would warm the surface temperature of the continental US by 0.24 degrees Celsius, with the largest changes occurring at night when surface temperatures would increase by up to 1.5 degrees. 

Wind turbines actively mix the atmosphere near the ground, which causes the warming.

According to the study, the warming effect is “small compared with projections of 21st century warming, approximately equivalent to the reduced warming achieved by decarburizing global electricity generation, and large compared with the reduced warming achieved by decarburizing US electricity with wind.”

“The direct climate impacts of wind power are instant, while the benefits of reduced emissions accumulate slowly,” Keith said, commenting on the study in The Harvard Gazette.

“If your perspective is the next 10 years, wind power actually has — in some respects — more climate impact than coal or gas. If your perspective is the next thousand years, then wind power has enormously less climatic impact than coal or gas,” Keith said.

The researcher noted that the study should not be viewed as a “fundamental critique of wind power,” but as a consideration to begin assessing strategic decisions about decarburizing electricity generation.

 

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