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Climate Change: Wind Turbines and Atmospheric Energy

Sep 03, 2015 03:56 PM EDT
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Wind turbines are sprouting up across wind farms worldwide. In 2011, wind energy accounted for 3.3 percent of electricity generation in the U.S. alone and 2.9 percent globally, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. But will turbines be just as effective if the number built keeps increasing?

Atmospheric science professors Nate Brunsell and David Mechem from the University of Kansas' Department of Geography looked at changes in atmospheric energy in areas with many wind turbines, and published their findings recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Wind turbines generate electricity by removing energy from the wind, so a larger number of wind turbines should result in a slowdown of the winds in the lower atmosphere," Mechem said in a news release

Using sophisticated weather forecasting models, the researchers found that if more wind turbines were installed in a smaller area, they became less efficient, and generated less and less energy. 

"When just a few wind turbines are installed, each additional turbine results in a similar increase in electricity generated, as you might expect,"Brunsell explained in the release

While no current or planned wind farms approach the size or concentration that would cause the slowdown effect that the researchers studied, these findings do need to be taken into consideration when comparing different sources of renewable energy.

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