Wind PowerWind energy is quickly growing in popularity, and turbines are now a common sight for many driving through the countryside.

Energy collected from wind contributes to electricity generation more and more every year, and now accounts for a solid 2-3% of global electricity. New research, however, shows that wind-turbine farms become less efficient as they grow in size; this information will inform wind farm planning in the future and maximize the energy generated by wind.

Turbines remove energy from the wind as they generate electricity. That means that there is less overall energy in the wind in that area for other turbines to collect. Researchers Nate Brunsell and David Mechem tested this hypothesis using numerical simulations that are already commonly used to predict weather in the a very windy region of the US.

The team, who work at the University of Kansas, found that once wind-turbine farms reach a certain size, they produce diminishing returns. The turbines can only realistically produce 1 megawatt for each square kilometer, an estimate that is much lower than previous attempts which did not take the diminishing effect into account.

Brunsell and Mechem’s study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They are quick to explain that no wind farms are currently large enough to be seriously affected by this phenomenon, and that there are no plans to build them that big right now. However, this research will help future engineers decide how to build wind-turbine farms.

For those who support the global effort to reduce carbon emissions, this kind of research is invaluable. It’s important to be skeptical, especially  of something that seems like a good idea. While a large wind farm sounds great, this research demonstrates why it is important to test ideas out before implementing them. There might be a better way to accomplish the same goal.

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