NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Wind Farms Are Warming the Earth, Researchers Say

May 3, 2012

The Obama administration has pointed to the increased need for renewable forms of energy as a long-term solution to America's energy independence and a partial solution to the threat of climate change.  Indeed, his policies have diverted billions of taxpayer dollars to the industry in the hope that it would fulfill this enormous mandate, says Fox News.

However, new research finds that wind farms actually warm up the surface of the land underneath them during the night, a phenomenon that could put a damper on efforts to expand wind energy as a green energy solution.

Liming Zhou, associate professor at the State University of New York, Albany, is the author of a study that used satellite imagery to study temperature patterns in West Texas.

  • Researchers used satellite data from 2003 to 2011 to examine surface temperatures across as wide swath of West Texas, which has built four of the world's largest wind farms.
  • Federal Aviation Administration data shows that the number of wind turbines over the study region has risen from 111 in 2003 to 2358 in 2011, according to the study.
  • The data showed a direct correlation between night-time temperatures increases of 0.72 degrees Celsius (1.3 degrees Fahrenheit) and the placement of the farms.

Zhou offers an explanation for the phenomenon, which incorporates the interaction that wind turbines have with the air.

  • Turbulence behind the wind turbine blades stirs up a layer of cooler air that usually settles on the ground at night, and mixes in warm air that is on top.
  • That layering effect is usually reversed during the daytime, with warm air on the surface and cooler air higher up, but this is interrupted by the turbines.
  • This warming effect can be deleterious to local crop growth -- an effect that is particularly pronounced in agricultural areas like Texas.
  • Furthermore, the warming effect can even have unanticipated effects on rain patterns, which will further exacerbate the drought the region is already experiencing.

John Dabiri, director of the Center for Bioinspired Wind Energy at the California Institute of Technology, suggests that the problem could be avoided by redesigning turbines to be smaller, but this would undermine their generative capacity.

Source: Eric Niiler, "Wind Farms Are Warming the Earth, Researchers Say," Fox News, April 30, 2012.

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