Large-Scale Wind Farms Could Warm the U.S.

By Lacy Schley | October 5, 2018 5:31 pm
wind farm

(Credit: By Angela Rohde/Shutterstock)

If we humans want to slow down global warming due to carbon emissions, clean energy is the way. But, as with all things, there are cons to go along with those pros. New research reports that installing large-scale wind farms across the country could raise the temperature of the continental United States.

The study, published in the journal Joule, is based on mathematical modeling done by experts at Harvard University. First, the team created a climate baseline; they used a standard weather forecasting model for 2012-2014. Then, they tweaked the model to see what would happen if wind power became a key player in helping us cut carbon emissions. In the model, that meant about one third of the continental U.S. was covered with turbines.

This degree of coverage, according to the researchers, would lead to a 0.24 degree Celsius increase in temperature. That’s because these turbines alter the flow of the atmosphere, redistributing heat and moisture in the air, which can alter climate. Plus, it could take at least a century for the benefits we’d reap from wind energy to offset this uptick.

Even though it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the levels of warming fossil fuels will cause, it’s still something to consider, especially compared to other options for clean energy. “This work should not be seen as a fundamental critique of wind power,” says David Keith, one of the paper’s authors, in a press release. “Rather, the work should be seen as a first step in getting more serious about assessing these impacts.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, top posts
  • Uncle Al

    Line up windmills like soldiers. The odd-numbered ones are generators. The even-numbered ones are fans powering the next generator in line. Windmill after generator after windmill, line after line, bank after bank… unlimited energy! Infinite energy.

    … Protracted funding plus diversity hiring make it possible.

    • Patrick Healey

      I was thinking the whole effect could be mitigated by employing a drawn reciprocating dingle arm, reducing the sinusoidal depleneration. Ammiright?

  • UzUrBrain

    The only solution is zero CO2 emitting Nuclear Power. Nuclear will be needed for the energy used in electric cars, trucks, rail and other transportation.

  • James Endell

    So, the authoress of this article , is some 25 year old bint with the marvellous scientific credentials of a journalism degree with a masters in volleyball.



    Dear Lacy… spend 10 years learning some maths??

    • Kenneth Nielsen

      The only joke I see is you expecting your over the top blatant misogyny to pass as some sort of discussion of the Harvard study in question here. Spend even 10 minutes on self awareness?

  • Rixware

    Sorry, but the ideas in this post make no sense. In what way are windmills more disruptive to ground air flow than, say, trees? Or skyscrapers? Or power line towers? If the study’s author is trying to suggest some comparison to an urban heat island effect, let’s hear it. Otherwise, this is nonsense.

    Frankly, this reads like something that came out of the mind of a publicist for a fossil fuel company. The “journal” mentioned is owned by Elsevier, indicating the need for at least healthy skepticism toward these conclusions.

    • Kenneth Nielsen

      Have you read the study? Then exactly what are you complaining about, the author’s summarization of a study you haven’t read or the study itself which again, you haven’t read.? You pose some questions that apparently you don’t think the authors of the study (which again you have not read) either considered or can answer and that is your arbitrary basis for calling the study nonsense. Or is all of this directed at an article that is just a brief piece on a published study and not the study itself. An article that while being brief does end by making the point that the 0.24% increase is not a great amount of warming compared to the warming due to fossil fuels. But it does highlight the need to consider every aspect of the possible consequences of every technology that attempts to address clean energy.

      • Rixware

        1. The study is behind a paywall. I have read the summary available, along with this and other coverage. This post is especially thin, missing key points found in other stories. When a journalist refers to a study that most readers will not be able to read, there is an even higher burden of clarity and thoroughness.

        2. It is utterly ridiculous to equate the localized and temporary temperature increase caused by wind turbines — which dissipates immediately and completely when the turbines are not turning — to global climate change. Even the authors of the study do not imply that it would contribute. This notion has been amplified by the media (such as this post) in an absurd manner.

        3. It is further utterly ridiculous to equate this effect with any significant climate effect when it would require a full third of the country to be covered by wind turbines — and ALL of them turning simultaneously and continuously — before the effect reaches even the passing and ridiculously low level calculated.

        4. The characterizations given in reports like this one, which skimp on the details, will be seized upon by climate change deniers as a reason to minimize further expansion of wind energy. I think we can agree that the discovery of a potential downside to an alternate energy source is not a reason to skip the research or to downplay the relevant findings. Indeed, full investigation and reporting is always warranted. But the details matter when reporting results. In the context given here, and with the language used by the person who wrote this post, the whole thing is nonsense.

        5. Though the study is “based on” work done at Harvard, it is not a Harvard study. This is an essential detail, as is the reputation of the journal publishing the material.

  • Jeff Bragg

    These wind turbines are passive right, the air moves them… Not the other way around. How on earth are they affecting anything?


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