Several months ago, a study was published suggesting a correlation between wind turbines and increases in surface temperature. The findings of the study were insightful and worthwhile, but some misleading interpretations of those findings sparked controversy and debate over wind as an effective alternative energy source.
A team of scientists at the State University of New York at Albany analyzed satellite data for several wind farms in Texas and found that over the course of a nine-year period, the surface temperatures near the wind farms were heating up. Temperature increases were especially noticed at night when turbulence created by turbines pulled warmer air from the atmosphere down closer to the ground.
Media interpretations of the findings really heated things up. Several news outlets came to the sensational, headline-grabbing conclusion that wind power was contributing to global warming.
Liming Zhou was a leading scientist on the study. In an article published by the National Science Foundation, he cautioned against over-applying the findings on a global level.
“The estimated warming trends only apply to the study region and to the study period, and thus should not be interpolated into other regions, globally or over longer periods," Zhou said. "For a given wind farm, once there are no new wind turbines added, the warming effect may reach a stable level."
Opportunities For Enhanced Benefits
Farmers already know that the turbulence generated by spinning blades can affect crops. Fruit farmers often use these same principles of mixing air to intentionally warm surface temperatures in order to protect crops from deadly frost. Potential benefits may also exist for farmers struggling with severe drought or crop disease. Scientists are conducting additional research to analyze how mixing air might allow for better distribution of carbon dioxide used by crops.
Some Lingering Questions
Given that wind power does not emit greenhouse gases, how does wind’s warming effect compare to other sources of energy? Are there crops in different regions that can benefit from the mixing of air caused by a wind turbine’s spinning blades? Can a wind farm’s impact on local surface temperatures be minimized by changing turbine design? Can the geographic placement of wind turbines be altered to reduce impact?
Responding To Challenges
The results of the study are an opportunity for improvement and motivation to continue researching, not a reason to abandon wind as a solution. There is great potential to conserve resources and reduce greenhouse gases through changes in human behavior and technology. There is value in innovating and testing alternatives, even if we don’t always get it exactly right the first time. The science, ongoing research, debates, and constant quest for more information, and better alternatives, are all necessary parts of a difficult process. No one said it would be easy.
To learn more about wind as an alternative energy source, check out Everblue’s Basics of Wind training program.
By Amy Malloy