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Global Warming’s Potential Impact on Wind Energy

Three things you need to know:

-- Increasing global average surface temperatures may reduce the amount of wind energy available for electricity production, a new study says.

-- Global air circulation is influenced by many aspects of the global climate, including differences in atmospheric temperatures between the equator and the North and South Poles.

-- Across North America, average wind speeds have decreased slightly over the past 40 years.

Turbines at Shanghai's Donghai Bridge Offshore Wind Farm capture wind energy in the late summer of 2010. A new study suggests that further global warming could reduce available wind energy by the end of this century. Credit: Alyson Kenward

The Debrief:

People tend to think wind energy is a classic example of a renewable energy resource. But while it is true that wind will still blow no matter how many wind turbines are built, some new research suggests that wind power may decrease in some regions of the world as global temperatures rise.

Atmospheric scientist Diandong Ren, from the University of Texas at Austin, recently compared a number of common climate projections to study how wind patterns might change if recent global warming trends continue. Narrowing in on China, Ren found that each of the climate models indicated the wind power available over China, at the average height of a wind turbine, is expected to decrease by about 14 percent within this century.

“We show that the efficiency of tapping wind energy is adversely affected by future global warming,” says Ren, in his recent paper.

This research is among the first to clearly predict a continual decrease in wind energy as average global temperatures go up, but the reasons why w...


Energy Outlook Portends High Oil Prices, Low Adoption of Hybrid Vehicles

The International Energy Agency (IEA) recently released its annual World Energy Outlook (WEO) for 2010, a report that is eagerly anticipated by governments and companies worldwide. The IEA was created 36 years ago in the wake of the first oil price shock and now has 28 member countries, including the U.S., most Western European nations, Japan, and several others. 

The main writers of the WEO 2010 (all 26 of them), with input from many outside experts (203 are listed in the report), gazed into their crystal balls to try to discern what’s going to happen with energy during the next 25 years. When reading a document like this, I always try to keep in mind some sage words attributed to Yogi Berra, “It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.”  It’s almost guaranteed that the quantitative predictions in a report like this won’t come to pass, but the deep analysis of trends presented in it offers a useful way to better understand where the world is today with regard to energy, and where we are headed. (And the analysis is really deep! The sheer volume of the document is intimidating, spanning 731 pages and including 120 tables and 267 graphs).

The WEO treats all manner of esoteric topics in depth — such as unconventional oil, energy poverty, energy in the Caspian region, and fossil-fuel subsidies. While many of these are primarily of interest to expert energy analysts (or those with too much free time on their hands), at least one topic — crude oil pri...


The Bike of the Future: Cumbersome but Swift

By Emily Elert

A few years ago my friend and I rode our bicycles a couple thousand miles across the country, and there was this weird thing that happened with the wind. On the headwind days (and there were a lot of those, traveling east to west), it was impossible to forget about the wind — it’s blasting into your face and screaming in your ears, and you can see every speck in the asphalt because, hard as you pedal, you’re barely moving.

But the tailwind days were different. Everything would go so beautifully and quietly and quickly that we would forget the wind existed, and instead we would begin to believe we had reached a new plane of physical fitness/existence in which riding an 80-pound bicycle across the country is easy.

Then the wind would shift again.

I forgot all about the tailwind/headwind thing until recently, when I spent a week test riding an electric bicycle around New York. Riding an electric bicycle — or, at least, riding the Optibike — is like having your own personal, perpetual tailwind.

Before the test ride, the whole concept of an electric-powered bicycle struck me as stupid. In the city, I ride a road bike with one gear, and everything from my bike-geek, quasi-physics-based philosophy about the joys of simple machines to the vain, ultra self-conscious basis of my outward identity directed me to love my single-speed 1974 Schwinn LeTour, and hate the electric bicycle.

Still, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to ride one, s...


Keeping Track of Energy with Useful Websites

Crowd-Sourcing Your Energy 

Though Wattzon has been around for over a year now, it’s a website that you should keep going back to. As one of the many ingenious ideas of inventor extraordinaire (and MacArthur Fellow, we might add) Saul Griffiths, this is a place where you can track with pretty reliable crowd-sourced accuracy exactly how much energy you use.

Going beyond some of the generic carbon footprint calculators that are sprinkled around the Internet, Wattzon sums all the energy you use in a year, regardless of the power source. This is, admittedly, one step removed from the concern of increasing carbon dioxide emissions that are a byproduct of fossil-fuel based energy sources. But getting this fairly complete perspective on personal power usage is a good way to identify areas where individuals can trim their energy consumption.


Check out Griffith’s talk from PopTech a couple years ago. It’s an illustrative look at both the complexity and the value of projects like Wattzon. And kudos to him for showing his math throughout the presentation; it’s always helpful to see exactly how figures of energy and power are calculated.

New Energy Bulletin on the Block

Speaking of energy, there aren’t too many places on the Internet where you can go for a comprehensive look at energy news and information. Yes, there are the run-of-the-mill Google and Yahoo news aggregators, but they cast an awfully wide net and it can be hard to tell whether the stories co...


How Much Energy Does That Device Use?

Shahzeen Attari

By Shahzeen Attari

Energy is invisible to the naked eye, but it is a part of every facet of our lives. In a new study, my coauthors and I investigated public perceptions of energy consumption to see how accurate people are in judging how much energy a variety of different activities and devices use.

In an online nationwide survey, participants were asked about the energy used and saved by household and transportation activities, among other behaviors. When asked about the most effective thing they can do to conserve energy in their lives, many Americans think of cutting back on activities (curtailment) rather than investing in home equipment or fuel-efficient transportation (energy efficiency) – this is the opposite of what experts recommend. There may be many reasons why people may think of curtailment rather than energy efficiency, as curtailing ones’ behavior does not involve any upfront costs.

However, the problem with curtailment is that it is hard to make sure people maintain these behavioral changes over a long period of time so that habit formation occurs. As individuals, we have a limited amount of attention and effort we can expend, so energy efficiency investments, if we can afford it, would provide a more effective option. In addition, about 20 percent of our participants stated that the most effective thing they could do was "turn off the lights" — a behavior that may not be very effective to address energy consumption and climate change.




Warming Spring On average, spring has warmed a little more than 2°F in the U.S. since 1970.

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