Are wind farms contributing to global warming? The answer is no – but they could cause the temperature to rise in localized areas on a really hot day or night. Researchers suggested in the journal Nature Climate Change that wind turbines could have an impact on regional weather, especially at night when wind farms are generally operating at or near full capacity. The study, focused on wind farms in West Texas, will surely give renewable energy foes another excuse to oppose any massive clean energy projects.
Liming Zhou, a professor at the State University of New York-Albany, used satellite data to analyze surface temperatures from 2003 to 2011 across west Texas, home to four of the largest wind farms in the world. Zhou and his team concluded that the turbulence behind the wind turbines’ blades stirred up cooler air that normally would have settled closer to the earth’s surface at night. The results showed that areas where wind farms were built had an average surface temperature of 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit (0.72 Celsius).
The findings could possibly pit Texas agricultural interests against renewable energy advocates. Texas is the United States’ largest generator of wind power at 10,000 megawatts – twice that of Iowa, and enough to power 3 million homes a year. But the farming sector in Texas is valued at $80 billion, second only to the Lone Star state’s petrochemical industry. West Texas farms, which are dependent on irrigation, suffered through extreme drought and heat the past few years, with its wheat, cotton and cattle industries at risk. Nevertheless this is just one study, and the emissions not sent into the atmosphere due to wind energy projects far outweigh a slight temperature rise in localized areas.
Zhou says for now his research has found a correlation, not causation. He also suggested that his reliance on satellite data could cause errors from temperature readings from clouds, not the ground’s surface. But the findings could give more ammunition to foes of wind power, including opponents in the United Kingdom who have fought the installation of wind farms in rural areas.
As for a solution, another researcher, John Dabiri, suggests that a redesign of wind turbine blades could address the problem–but that would mean less power generated. Zhou, meanwhile, said he wants to research wind farms in other reasons of the world to confirm his theory. In the meantime, look for wind energy companies to view the study as more of an eye-rolling incident, not a setback.