Wind power had always been considered our salvation from peril, our last and most accessible “renewable” resource on this planet. Well, Axel Kleidon, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, has another theory: wind and wave power are not so renewable and infinite, after all.
He says that only a small part of Sun’s power is used to evaporate water and create turbulence in the atmosphere, the source of winds and waves. At the pace we consume energy today, if we relied entirely on wind and wave power, the planet would simply not able to cope with converting solar power into wind and waves, and they do have maybe the most important role in sculpting the Earth and everything on it.
His warning may not be applicable to us or a generation after, but if our grandchildren will start building wind power and they will exceed a certain capacity, then they may interfere with the ecosystems’ natural patterns, which will surely have huge effects on everything.
Now, wind will not stop, ever. The real trouble is that we, by converting its power into electricity, will consume that electricity imperfectly, and transform part of it into unusable heat, which will not be returned into outer space, like it’s the case with the ocean, nor converted into carbon-sequestering biomass, which is the case with plants.
Out of the 47 terrawatts used by humanity, only 1 part in 10,000 of the total solar energy is used. “It’s hard to put a precise number on the fraction,” he says, “but we certainly use more of the free energy than [is used by] all geological processes.” In other words, we have a greater effect on Earth’s energy balance than all the earthquakes, volcanoes and tectonic plate movements put together, says NewScientist.
“Large-scale exploitation of wind energy will inevitably leave an imprint in the atmosphere,” says Kleidon. “Because we use so much free energy, and more every year, we’ll deplete the reservoir of energy.” He says this would probably show up first in wind farms themselves, where the gains expected from massive facilities just won’t pan out as the energy of the Earth system is depleted.
A total of 70 terrawatts would be available for us to extract from wind resources, but Kleidon says this would surely upset the ecosystem, which will surely have an impact on us.
Solar panels are the only viable solution, although they also contribute to the continuous warming. One solution would be designing solar cells that reflect back the unused portion of light, so that heat does not pass to them and further on to the wind/water.
The final idea is that solar power is the only practically unlimited resource of energy. However, whatever we do produces heat, and there’s a limit to that, too (without suffering consequences afterwards). Kleidon’s theory will be published in a paper contained in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.