Harvard studies: Wind power needs so much land, it’ll cause warming

Two new research papers from Harvard University scientists find that wind power contributes to global warming. The more wind is brought online to replace traditional energy sources, the more land use it will require. As we’ve discussed here before, doing the math on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar has to include their huge land requirements.

And wind requires a tremendous amount of land to produce energy equivalent to efficient, readily dispatchable traditional sources (when the wind blows, that is):

Here’s a snippet from a news article on the studies from The Harvard Gazette:

In two papers — published today in the journals Environmental Research Letters and Joule — Harvard University researchers find that the transition to wind or solar power in the U.S. would require five to 20 times more land than previously thought, and, if such large-scale wind farms were built, would warm average surface temperatures over the continental U.S. by 0.24 degrees Celsius.

“Wind beats coal by any environmental measure, but that doesn’t mean that its impacts are negligible,” said David Keith, the Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and senior author of the papers. “We must quickly transition away from fossil fuels to stop carbon emissions. In doing so, we must make choices between various low-carbon technologies, all of which have some social and environmental impacts.”

Must we? 

The U.S. is leading the world in reducing energy emissions thanks to cheap, plentiful, clean-burning natural gas (thanks to fracking).

This doesn’t get reported often because it flies in the face of near-religious incantations like We must quickly transition away from fossil fuels to stop carbon emissions, but it’s happening for real. Just not how they thought it would.

(I thought actual lowering of emissions was the result environmentalists desperately wanted, as they’ve professed for decades. Do they ignore it now since market forces, rather than their government machinations, ultimately brought it about?)

But here, look:

Look at what’s been happening in North Carolina this century:

This was a pullquote in the article:

“If your perspective is the next 10 years, wind power actually has — in some respects — more climate impact than coal or gas. If your perspective is the next thousand years, then wind power has enormously less climatic impact than coal or gas.”

Really, the next thousand years? By then we will have already experienced countless energy innovations.

Doubt me? Just look at the history of energy resources over the past couple of centuries.

The other American resource renewables devour: your money

There’s only one energy source that is not a net subsidy taker: natural gas. Wind and solar demand and get the largest amount of federal subsidies by far — a lump sum that looks even more irresponsible when you adjust it for amount of energy purchased per federal dollar.

If you wanted to dictate to society an energy source that offers zero emissions, minimal land use, and less overall subsidization (much less per unit of energy subsidized), though, you’d demand a move to nuclear. But what a fight among environmentalists that is.

Jon Sanders / Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...