by Shauna Theel, via Media Matters
A recent study of satellite data found that nighttime land temperatures in the immediate vicinity of wind turbines in Texas have increased relative to nearby areas without turbines. Conservative media outlets, including Fox Nation, Rush Limbaugh and Jim Hoft, are distorting the research to claim that wind farms “cause global warming” and Fox News’ morning show concluded “wind ain’t working.” But the study’s lead author said via email that this coverage is “misleading.”
The researchers, led by Liming Zhou, said it is “[v]ery likely” that “wind turbines do not create a net warming of the air and instead only re-distribute the air’s heat near the surface, which is fundamentally different from the large-scale warming effect caused by increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.” The turbines pull down warm air, increasing land surface temperatures, which already have “a larger day-night variation” than the surface air temperatures featured in daily weather reports.
The authors further noted that “this analysis is from a short period,” from 2003 to 2011, and is “over a region with rapid growth of wind farms,” west-central Texas, so it is likely that their estimate of a “nighttime warming effect” is higher than “in other locations and over longer periods.”
This piece was originally published at Media Matters for America and was republished with permission.
See also the Washington Post’s “No, wind farms are not causing global warming,” which quotes Stanford’s Mark Jacobson on the subject:
To get a sense for what scientists know about this topic, I called Mark Jacobson, an environmental engineer at Stanford who has done a fair bit of modeling work in this area. The key thing to note is that, for now, humanity doesn’t use anywhere near enough wind power to make a big difference to global wind patterns. Jacobson’s earlier research suggested that there’s somewhere around 72 terawatts of wind power that could feasibly be harnessed worldwide. At the end of 2011, the world’s wind power generation capacity was still just 0.2 terawatts. (Human beings use about 16 terawatts of energy, all told.)
And scientists dispute what would happen if we did start blanketing the globe with wind turbines. One 2004 study led by the University of Calgary’s David Keith found that getting just 2 terawatts of electricity from wind could produce “non-negligible climactic change at continental scales” — including shifts in rainfall patterns. (That much wind power would not, however, change the overall temperature of the planet.) But, says Jacobson, the effects that Keith’s group modeled don’t appear to be distinguishable from random fluctuations in the Earth’s climate. “To me,” says Jacobson, “that’s a meaningless result.”
Jacobson himself is working on a more in-depth effort to model the effects of a very large ramp-up in wind — those results could be published later this year. He says it’s possible that a massive expansion of wind turbines over both land and sea could even cool the planet somewhat, by slowing the rate at which water evaporates from the soil and enters the atmosphere. But his study is still under review.
For any of these effects to be noticeable, however, the wind industry would have to be several orders of magnitude larger than it is now. As far as the present day is concerned, there’s no evidence that wind power is having a major effect on the world’s climate, while there’s plenty of evidence that the greenhouse gases we’re pumping into the air are doing quite a bit to heat the Earth.