Wind Farms Can Change the Weather

BY Sarah Dowdey / POSTED October 15, 2010
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Forget sonic headaches. The latest piece of wind-power news has to do with the weather. According to a recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, utility-scale wind farms can change surrounding temperatures.

The study, led by Somnath Baidya Roy from the University of Illinois, analyzed meteorological data collected at the San Gorgonio wind farm near Palm Springs, Calif., over a seven-week stretch in 1989. The data set, believed to be the only one of its kind, demonstrated that the turbines affected the local weather, cooling off daytime temps and warming up at night. According to USA Today, during one day of the study, it was 100 degrees F (37 degrees C) upwind of the farm at 1 p.m., and only 93 degrees F (33 degrees C) at the site.

By using a climate model called RAMS (Regional Atmospheric Modeling System), the researchers were also able to conduct computer simulations of a wind farm and determine that the turbulence created by the turbine’s rotor was responsible for the changes in air temperatures at the ground. While it’s possible this change in temperature could have an effect on crop productivity, don’t get too worried. According to BBC News and Jonathan Scurlock, chief adviser on climate change and renewable energy at the National Farmers Union, “Farmers have got far more to fear from […] well-known climatic processes driven by fossil fuel emissions than anything that is going to come as a consequence of deploying wind power.”

Still, Somnath Baidya Roy and colleagues proposed a few potential fixes in their study. Rotors could be constructed differently to produce less turbulence — a change that might also make them more efficient. Alternately, wind farms could be put in places where there’s more natural turbulence already. It may seem like yet another difficult item to add to the laundry list of wind-farm requirements: locations with consistently high winds away from both migration routes and residential areas. But the study looked at 25 years’ worth of data to identify such high-turbulence spots around the globe, and fortunately, many are in places already conducive to wind energy.

Thanks to Coolest Stuff blogger Amanda Arnold for suggesting this topic.

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