The UN estimates that by 2050, world population will leap more than 28%, from 7 billion to more than 9 billion people. The equivalent of adding two current-day Indias (1.2 billion people). This massive increase will mean hugely larger needs for water, food and shelter than today.
The search for cheap energy will dominate our thinking between now and 2050; finding non-polluting, inexpensive energy for both developed and developing nations is essential if we want to head off the climate change that has already accelerated.
Possible relief was suggested by two studies released independently of each other in September. Both Stanford University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers agree that, if invested in, wind could completely power the world in thirty years. Wind power creates little pollution, very little heat and is extremely inexpensive after turbines and infrastructure are built.
The Lawrence Livermore team used models to quantify the power that surface and atmospheric winds could generate, and published their findings on September 9 in Nature Climate Change.
“Though there is enough power in the earth’s winds to be a primary source of near-zero emission electric power for the world, large-scale high altitude wind power generation is unlikely to substantially affect climate,” according to Kate Marvel, lead author of the paper.
Meanwhile, researchers at Stanford University’s School of Engineering and the University of Delaware “developed the most sophisticated weather model available to show that not only is there plenty of wind over land and near to shore to provide half the world’s power, but there is enough to exceed the total demand by several times, even after accounting for reductions in wind speed caused by turbines,” according to an article authored by Andrew Meyers in Stanford University News on September 10.
“We knew there was a lot of wind out there, but this is the first actual quantification of the total resource,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, the professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford who directed the research.
Projections of the capabilities and consequences of any energy source are a complicated science, but the new computer models used by these researchers are said to provide more sophisticated and accurate projections of wind power than ever before.
“We’re not saying, ‘Put turbines everywhere,’ but we have shown that there is no fundamental barrier to obtaining half or even several times the world’s all-purpose power from wind by 2030. The potential is there,” Jacobson said.
The 2004 report, Renewable Energy Policies and Barriers, enumerated the reasons that a resource like wind power might not be adopted. It lists, “subsidies for conventional forms of energy, high initial capital costs coupled with lack of fuel-price risk assessment [and] imperfect capital markets,” among others.
“Many of these barriers could be considered ‘market distortions’ that unfairly discriminate against renewable energy, while others have the effect of increasing the costs of renewable energy relative to the alternatives.”