Simply put, burning fossil fuels is not sustainable to meet our energy needs. It’s also terrible for the environment. Is the answer to be found in wind farms, and just how many would be needed to power the world’s major cities?
Ever since the industrial revolution, our main sources of energy have been coal and natural gas. Not only are these ever-diminishing resources whose prices are escalating, but we also now know how damaging they are for the environment. As we search for sustainable energy and solutions that will reduce the effect on climate change, the answer may just be blowing in the wind…
Wind farms produce only four per cent of the world’s energy at the moment, but there is potential for much greater capacity. A 2017 study claims that a wind farm the size of India positioned in the North Atlantic Ocean could provide all the energy the world needs. Wind creates 40 times more energy than we currently use and we would only need to capture about two per cent of wind power today to provide all the energy we require.
A load of hot air
A recent set of infographics produced by RS Components details how many wind turbines are needed to power many of the world’s major cities. Top of their list was Tokyo, Japan, which would require 10 310 wind turbines to produce all of the electricity it needs. Italy’s Milan, by comparison, would require only 238.
The largest wind farm in the world today is the Walney Extension, in the Irish Sea off the west coast of England. Its turbines, 87 in total, cover a vast area larger than that of San Francisco, and are capable of powering nearly 600 000 homes.
The authors of the 2017 study, however, acknowledge that a large wind farm in the North Atlantic is only hypothetical. It may not be achievable in reality as it would create its own form of climate change and shift the direction of global winds. There are also technological limitations. Storing the energy created by wind turbines so it can be used to provide a reliable supply will require much more better batteries than we can make at the moment. So is wind energy a sustainable solution, or just a load of hot air?
The future of wind energy
While building one super-sized wind farm is not a realistic way forward, creating several large wind farms could provide us with a significant chunk of our energy needs. China is aiming to produce 25 per cent of its energy from wind by 2030. With reforms to its power sector, that number could increase to a third. The US Department of Energy believes 35 per cent of America’s energy could come from wind by the year 2050.
Producing all of our energy from wind is a long way off, but ample opportunities exist to significantly increase the percentage. As more people realize that the future of energy production needs to be sustainable, investment in wind technology has increased in recent years. Even large oil and gas companies such as Shell are now investing heavily in renewable energy. This investment will help fuel more efficient wind farms and better storage facilities. Wind energy could well be the future.
A world powered by wind: Currently, only four per cent of the world’s energy needs are supplied by wind farms, yet they have the potential to produce 40 times the amount of electricity that’s currently consumed.
INFOGRAPHICS: RS COMPONENTS
This article was written by Clay Morrison.
A version of this article was published in the August 2019 issue of Popular Mechanics.