Wind turbines spin in Wyoming, but warming could markedly cut wind-energy potential in the region.

Wind turbines spin in Wyoming, but warming could markedly cut wind-energy potential in the region. Credit: Pete McBride/Getty

Climate change

Warming could foil wind energy

How winds might change should be considered in energy planning.

Global warming could alter the way air moves around the world, ultimately affecting one of the most popular means of generating clean energy: wind turbines.

Kristopher Karnauskas and his colleagues at the University of Colorado Boulder used ten global climate models to explore how winds might change in two warming scenarios. Their results suggest that, in both low- and high-emissions scenarios, wind resources will decrease across the northern mid-latitudes, mainly as a result of weather patterns associated with accelerated warming in the Arctic. In the Southern Hemisphere, high emissions see wind resources increase on average, because of temperature differentials over land and sea. The effects vary by location, however.

The results indicate that energy planners can’t assume the wind available for electricity generation will remain constant over time, and could help to guide more detailed local and regional analyses.