Wind farms are not very good. Yes, politicians embrace them because the unions advocating them donate heavily to campaigns, and environmentalists advocate them because they always advocate something new until it becomes popular (natural gas the 1980s, ethanol in the 1990s, then wind - anything but nuclear) but aside from a lot of dead endangered birds, wind hasn't helped much.
But concern that wind farms would cause more global warming are overblown. They don't help, and they are unsightly and ridiculously expensive, but they sure don't hurt, even though they were previously implicated in more heat and rainfall in Europe.
A new paper in Nature Communications indicates that the climatic effects of wind farms, such as increases in heat and rainfall, are much weaker than natural climate variability over the majority of Europe. Yes, a paper on climate change actually found natural variability is greater than something.
Wind turbines may not be helping global warming, and they mess with the weather, but not the climate. Credit: Robert Vautard
To try and reduce climate change without using zero-emissions energy like nuclear power or more natural gas, politicians have latched onto wind farms and subsidized conpanies heavily to implement them. Over the past decade, Europe created the largest continental wind power installed capacity and now has the highest density of wind farms.
It didn't take long for models to show that, in areas of intensive wind farm development, wind farms significantly altered five-day weather forecasts, even up to several thousand kilometers away, but where or not short-term weather pattens meant long-term climate change was uncertain, though publications like Grist have yet to realize they are not interchangeable.
Robert Vautard and colleagues modeled the climatic effects of the then current (2012) and proposed future (2020) European wind farm installations using numerical estimates, which describes the interactions between wind turbines and the atmosphere, and found that although the wind farms establish a robust anticyclonic flow over Europe, the only significant impact on daily temperature and rainfall occurs during winter, and this is much weaker than changes in climate expected from natural inter-annual variability.
The findings indicate that current and future European wind farms will have a minimal effect on regional climate.
Citation: Robert Vautard, Françoise Thais, Isabelle Tobin, François-Marie Bréon, Jean-Guy Devezeaux de Lavergne, Augustin Colette, Pascal Yiou&Paolo Michele Ruti, 'Regional climate model simulations indicate limited climatic impacts by operational and planned European wind farms', Nature Communications 5, Article number: 3196 11 Feb 2014 doi:10.1038/ncomms4196
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