Two new studies suggest wind could power the world in the future. One of the studies, from Stanford University, finds that wind could exceed the world’s power demands several times by 2030. What is the future of wind power? How does it compete against solar power, which is cheaper? What’s the latest wind technology, and could we start to see deep-water wind turbines off the California coast?

The Future of Wind Power 13 September,2012forum

Dan Kammen, professor of energy and director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley
Ken Caldeira, climate scientist with the Carnegie Institution for Science's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University
Habib Dagher, engineering professor and director of the Advanced Structures and Composites Laboratory at the University of Maine, and leader of the DeepWind Consortium, a Dept. of Energy program to develop floating offshore technologies in the U.S.
Mark Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, director of the Atmosphere/Energy Program and lead author of the study "Saturation Wind Power Potential and its Implications for Wind Energy"

  • Rhet

    How much energy is needed to fabricate a wind tower, its propellers and its generator? I expect it requires far more energy to make a turbine than it does to manufacture an array of solar panel that produce the same energy.

    •  I would actually suspect it’s less: a wind turbine is basically a wing or propeller.  The spinning generated electricity. Wind turbines have a potentially much longer lifespan than solar panels. In addition, at the end of it’s life, it can be melted down and reused, which I’m not sure is the case for panels.

  • Bob Fry

    I’m not sure what is new about this study. Solar power, too, could power the world several or many times over by a simple calculation of sunlit areas, current solar efficiencies, and current demand. So what? These studies ignore the realities of wind or sun not being where the demand is, NIMBY attitudes, difficulty of storing the energy for hours or days between production and demand, etc.

    • sailormike

      Global and US energy demand is growing annually. We need to replace aging power plants and add new capacity. Wind energy costs about the same as coal power. The power grid, as built today can handle a moderate amount wind and solar, which is intermittent. Why not take advantage of a cheap and clean resources with free fuel (i.e. the wind and sun)? Also, what are NIMBY attitudes towards coal and nuclear power plants? Do you suggest we just give up and go on killing the planet by building more of the same old coal power plants, as we have been doing for the past 150 years? That’s pretty unimaginative.

      • Bob Fry

        NIMBY attitudes towards existing coal plants, at least, were resolved decades ago. Solar and wind typically go into new areas with new NIMBY attitudes. You seem to think I’m against wind and solar; I’m not, but I am realistic, and simply saying that there are very considerable problems with wind and solar that this program seems to gloss over. Storage, transmission, and NIMBY are the big problems. They are not insurmountable but we have to recognize them, not pretend they are trivial.

  • Karen

    Love the news about wind power, but is there a solution yet to the massive bird kills associated with the wind turbines?

  • April

    Maybe this is a dumb question but … if we convert pretty much every thing to wind power, do we run the risk of being in serious trouble if the world’s temperature/weather/climate changes so much that we don’t actually have as much wind as we need?

  • campfiregirl

    We should put the resources we are using to subsidize fossil fuels towards creating a renewable energy grid.

  • Tombenzian

    My question is, why has no one even mentioned the technology around zero point energy. This would give everyone unlimited free energy for ever. Someone has to confront this issue now!!

    • Charlie

       If zero point energy ever turns into anything it might be a great solution.  However, as of this date there is nothing to substantiate the concept beyond a lot of rumor and wishful thinking. If such a technology exists it would be interesting to know something about it – but that is never forthcoming.  Sorry, but as of right now it is in the realm of fiction, wishful thinking and perpetual motion.

  • Masjohnny

    What about the attinuation in the transmission lines? How much power does that use?

  • Fred

    Has anyone spoken yet about the recent drop in the cost of Chinese solar panels, and the strange talk about raising tariffs to prevent importation of those cheaper panels? It seems to me that now is the time for homeowners and businesses to go with solar before the government blocks imports.

    • Charlie

       It is worse than that.  Currently, the big utilities in California are lobbying for legislation that will prevent homeowners and small businesses from installing solar on the buildings.  They have been attempting to do this for years, and appear to be very close to succeeding at this time.  The utilities and power companies want to own the variable power sources, therefore they are attempting to prevent you from doing so. There is also pressure to allow the utilities to charge for the production of roof top solar as if you were purchasing it from the utility – even though you paid for the panels and even though the power never gets onto the grid but is used directly by you at your house or business. I hope that this doesn’t occur, but the IOU’s (Investor Owned Utilities) are lobbying hard for this legislation.

  • Has anyone considered what the risks are to having off-shore windmills? Doesn’t this leave our power sources exposed to not only natural dangers such as storms, but also attacks from terrorists or other foreign entities?

  • Manjari_dutta

    If wind power becomes a serious source of energy in the U.S will it boos t up manufacturing jobs in the U.S or again be a big siphon of offshore manufactured components getting in here

  • Laird

    Have improvements been made in wind turbine design to reduce fatalities to raptors and birds?

  • Joe

    If there are concerns about the impact of turbines on marine life, how about locating them in coastal areas known to have oxygen-deprived zones, where marine life is going to die off anyway?

    • sailormike

      In California at least, the best offshore wind energy resource is near the shore where strong, alongshore winds cause cold water upwelling. The upwelling makes these near-shore areas more biologically productive.

  • Sam

    have studies covered possible risk to marine life from offshore wind power?

    • sailormike

      Fish found to thrive in offshore wind farms:

      Birds generally avoid the farms. Marine mammals can be affected during construction but careful planning can avoid these impacts.

      Offshore wind farms are subject to full environmental review. If there was potentially significant harm marine life, the project would not be able to proceed.

  • Kumar

    The concerns about aesthetics are just red herring because same concern was about Golden Gate Bridge but now its an icon.

    • Kumar

      About the noise also its not valid because people live on side of railway tracks with much higher noise but do not complain.

  • Spectaclebear

    Wind energy is exciting by any metric: jobs, sustainability, peace on earth as countries/people will not be competing for resources, and probably best of all: putting us on the path of stopping the worst effects of the extinction path that is global warming. Implementation needs to respect the dangerous sound effects on life, human and wildlife. Some caveats include sound effects on wildlife in the ocean, not sucking in birds, not destroying irreplaceable wildlife habitat.

    • Bob Fry

      “peace on earth as countries/people will not be competing for resources”

      Oh please. Competition, including violent conflict, are genetic to mankind and will not be solved by fairy-tale statements.

    • Charlie

       Not to mention that there are better, cheaper, less polluting and less environmentally damaging solutions that are fully mature and ready to go. The problem is not an engineering one, it is a political one.  We need to take control of the political situation if we are to achieve your goals of jobs, sustainability, peace on earth, etc.  They are all achievable without wind, without the negative environmental impacts, and without the gigantic transfer of tax and rate payer money to the large wind corporations.  We are once again being bamboozled.

      • utera

        The facts are wind is expensive and unreliable, and frankly not viable in many places.   Its easy to talk about the additional cost as if its nothing, but how many teachers would you cut to build the wind turbines you need?  These gung ho wind type proponents always figure someone else will figure out a way to pay for it, or that it will have no cost, but the truth is, you have to ask what will you cut to do this. 

        The problem IS an engineering and science one, until these renewables become self justifying you will have to keep pretending it is a political issue.  

        Jobs? Green jobs promise has been questionable for the longest time. You can pay someone to tie your shoes for you, you create a job, but it isn’t economically sensible or efficient in the long run, much as it is for green jobs. Whos to say china can’t build these things cheaper anyways. The last thing any green person wants is another factory, as they’ve been blocking industry for decades now, and so our industrial base is so weak you think we can compete? Anyways, china doesn’t really care if it makes sense, they’ll take your green subsidy dollars to build whatever you want, as they do with solar right now.

  • sailormike

     A detailed, peer reviewed study about California offshore wind energy can be found here:

  • Ruth

    For how many years can a wind turbine generate power?  Solar panels have an average life span of 25 – 30 years.  Fossil fuels are in decline, and at some point will become too expensive to use–good news for global warming, but not so good news for life as we know it.  If we’re going to use declining fossil resources to build a bridge to sustainable energy use, wind seems like a good way to go.  After all, the Dutch have used wind power for centuries, and farmers used to use wind turbines to pump water.

    • Charlie

       Solar panels actually have been found to last over 40 years, but have not been around long enough for us to know their actual lifetime.  Wind turbines claim a 20 year lifetime, but historically get removed and “re-powered” after about ten years.   Wind used for pumping water and grinding grain is an entirely different animal from wind used for making electricity.  You are comparing apples and oranges because of engineering aspects of how it is used. Wind is not a good way to go for a plethora of reasons, not the least of which is that from the system point of view large penetrations of wind energy produce little, or no, additional energy beyond what would be produced without it.  I know that it is counter-intuitive, but if you take the time to look into the engineering aspects you will find that the problems of efficiently getting the power from the turbines to the users are substantial and unsolved.

  • mj

    It is time to think roof top solar. Wind has to many costs to the environment, and end user. Expensive for the end user in rates and expensive to the environment in view, bird and bat deaths, noise/infrasound , strobbing /light pollution, None of that comes with roof top solar. Its is cheap now and the winner is the end user. There are claims that we have enough roof tops to solar the nation. Lets go to work on using less power and make changes that do not ruin our enviornment. Look closely at what they do not tell you about wind. It has to be backed up with low effiency energy ending up with no net gain to green energy. Put the power where it is used. Roof top solar is free- if you consider that paying what you pay to the energy companies could be used to pay off solar expense and then in say 7 years you have not energy costs. But that is not what the big enerby companies want you to know. They want to control the energy , raise the prices and make big profits for the overseas owners. It is our nation lets take it back.

    • utera

      Roof top solar is inefficient, its roof jewelry for yuppies, subsidized by taxpayers.  They are just not the optimal place/angle for solar in most cases.  

      Subsidies stop sounding so nice once you realize subsidies have the same net effect on your government budget as a tax break.  

  • Charlie

    There are also studies that show that there is adequate space and resources for solar that could provide 150 times the current power use of the United States. We are not limited by available resources, we are instead limited by issues such as cost, environmental impacts of various kinds, and political will.  While there is a lot of wind energy available, it is not the best solution, the cheapest solution, or is it necessary to achieve the goals that we all seem to agree upon.  Beware of cost comparisons between technologies – they are not what they appear to be but are rather artificial constructs designed to show that a desired outcome (utility scale wind) is the best answer.  Utility scale solar is also a poor solution to the problem.

  • Paul

    I’m late to the party but I listened to the show today and read the comments. Wind energy is great…but:
    1) Forget new utility-scale wind in California. Environmental extremists will stop new plants & transmission lines at every turn. (land use, bird & aesthetic issues)
    2) I have to agree, the big wind farm near Palm Springs looks pretty awful, and I’ve been there… but it is ‘clean’ energy!
    3) Let inland states build wind, they are much more accepting of it.
    4) Wind does not “blow” 24/7. We still need clean core power production. The only clean core power is “N____r”. (though I’m no big fanboy of that either)
    5) The idea that the experts say wind can supply 300 Gigawatts in CA is a pipe dream. We could run vacation cruises the the moon and back too, we have the technology; but it probably will never happen.
    6) Offshore wind sounds good at first, but cost & eco-opposition is too high. Forgetaboutit. 
    7) Roof top PV solar is really the way to go, especially inland and in the south. (btw, it’s a waste of $ to spend for PV solar in SF! Go inland, more cost efficient). Rooftop PV won’t solve all the clean energy needs, but at least it’s fully feasible, can be installed right now, without lawmakers & eco-extremists getting involved, at least at the moment.

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