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Global Wind Map, Revisited
Jamais Cascio, 23 May 05

windmap_sm.jpgI managed to get ahold of the global wind map article we mentioned a few days ago. "Evaluation of Global Wind Power" by Cristina L. Archer and Mark Z. Jacobson is a detailed analysis of wind data from over 8,000 wind speed measurements around the world. The results are generally more conservative than other regional studies, but even so, nearly 13 percent of the stations recorded sustained wind speeds in the "Class 3" category (6.9-7.5 meters/second) or better, with some few locations topping out over "Class 7" (9.4 meters/second or greater). Generally speaking, with currently-deployed wind turbine technology, Class 3 winds or greater are required for economically useful generation.

Read on for more details from the Global Wind Power report, as well as a larger version of the global wind map.

One data point that didn't get much play in the press summaries was the relative lack of economically useful wind patterns in much of the world. Asia is the worst-positioned; as Archer and Jacobson put it, "The majority of this area is not suitable for wind power generation. Over the entire territories of India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines, for example, not a single station was in class 3 or higher!" China is not much better off, with higher-speed regions generally appearing only along the coastlines (fortunate, then, that China's wind plans involve off-shore turbines). Other regions with limited wind potential (as shown on the global map -- see below) include nearly all of Russia, most of South America, and Southern Europe. (Africa also shows only small amounts of power potential, but there are too few measuring stations to make an accurate estimate.)

Still, the big news remains the wind potential of the remaining 13%: wind power potential over land from class ≥ 3 areas can be estimated roughly as 72 TW, corresponding to 6.27 x 10^14 kWh or, by assuming 100% primary energy equivalent and a conversion factor of 0.086 from TWh to Mtoe [IEA, 2003], 53898 Mtoe. [...] This value may appear large, but it applies only to that portion of the land (12.7%) with high average wind speeds (class 3 or greater). The global demand (or consumption) of electricity in 2001 was between 1.6 TW [EIA, 2004, Table 6.2] and 1.8 TW [IEA, 2003] (13.8 x 1012 -15.5 x 1012 kWh); the global demand of energy for all purposes in 2001 was between 6995 [IEA, 2003] and 10177 [EIA, 2004, Table E.1] Mtoe . As such, the amount of wind energy over land could potentially cover over five times the current global energy and about 40 times the current electricity uses with little incremental pollution.

Just to make the numbers clear on their own: the total wind power potential from economically usable (at current technology) locations amounts to 72 terawatts; the total global electricity use in 2001 was 1.6-1.8 terawatts; the total global energy use from all sources (according to the DOE) was just under 14 terawatts in 2002.

But as we know, technology isn't standing still. Innovations in wind turbine design may well make previously "uneconomical" wind speeds viable sources of power. Further, if we break out of the mind-set requiring a single power technology to replace all current sources, even "micropower" with small wind turbines -- built onto homes, for example, or along light fixtures -- becomes a useful way to add power to the grid. In any event, the science is clear: there's more than enough renewable power potential on the planet to handle all of our power needs well into the next century.


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I don't like the color scheme of the key. It is not intuitive that black is better than red is better than light blue.

I'd like to see a map that ignores class 1 and 2 spots.

A lot of the really high-velocity spots are in remote areas. Probably little sense in developing them, unless you use them to (for example) power a plant that creates a transportable hydrocarbon.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on 23 May 05

I definitely agree on the information design point, Stefan. Anybody up for a little Photoshop fun?

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 23 May 05

I note that at least one class-5 area is missing from that map:  in lake Michigan.  This could supply power to Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.

Posted by: Engineer-Poet on 23 May 05

Has anyone tried to harness the wind from passing cars and trucks on freeways? Your post mentions and links to micro generators. What about a ribbon of them down the cities' highways?


Posted by: JC on 23 May 05

Interesting idea, JC. That would help mitigate one of the intermittency issues with wind, that it tends to blow harder in the evenings. Traffic tends to be highest during the day.

E-P, it's unfortunate that the article isn't available for public viewing, but I did get a chance to read it. The authors make a point of acknowledging that they don't include some higher-class regions identified by other papers due to the strictures of the analysis method they use. That's what I mean by the results being more "conservative."

Posted by: Jamais Cascio on 23 May 05

Thanks for the map Jamais. I wish Europe wasnt broken, though PaintShop can fix that one up. I know it is asking for a little too much but a country-wise breakup of the wind power potential would have been great to have! :)

It is slightly ironic that India does not seem to have any high potential areas and mostly just class 1 regions. This is particularly so since India has been one of the early adopters of commercial wind power, and still has the fifth highest installed wind power capability in the world (though a host of European nations look set to race ahead this year or the next).

Posted by: Kiran on 24 May 05

They forgot to indicate all the monstrously big tabular icebergs in the great Southern Ocean. These bergs drift there for decades on end, often measure more than 20 miles in length (small islands), and would be the perfect sites for hydrogen production.
Windspeeds over these bergs are consistently in class 7, and we know that the energy available increases as the cube of the wind speed, so it would be great to harvest these powerful winds.
Anyone want sail down there and put some electrolisers + turbines on a few bergs?

Posted by: Lorenzo on 24 May 05

JC - there has indeed been some talk of putting micro-turbines on freeways, but the problem seems to be that the wind generated by passing vehicles is too turbulent to be reliable. A specialized turbine needs to be designed to function in more turbulent conditions.

Posted by: justus on 24 May 05

I wonder if there are any deleterious effects from putting turbines and other things in the path of winds. Will that change the worldwide wind patterns, like we've done with rivers? Or is wind more freely available than that?

Posted by: Anca on 24 May 05

Nobody disputes that large amounts of electricity can be generated from wind, but it doesn't address the issue of in an electricity distribution system supply must match demand otherwise the system crashes. There are applications where wind is ideal, desalination comes to mind, but winds contribution to the grid would appear to be limited and require a 100% alternate source backup.

Posted by: phil_b on 25 May 05

Reguarding highway windpower, since the wind would be generated from cars powered by fossil energy, it would be "fossil wind" (hmm..). By making cars more aerodynamic, you'd also be reducing the amount of wind available. It seems to me that the amount of energy one could recoup from the the automobile wind would be really minimal.

Also re: icebergs... Since wind mills need to remain stationary, thus anchored to something, on ground the ground would push back with as much force as the wind exerts, but on an iceberg, you'd be increaing the drag, and thus speed up it's travel through the ocean, basically turning the iceberg into a sail powered vehicle. If you cared to also drop an anchor into the ocean to keep the berg stationary, then you'd be OK.


Posted by: BK on 25 May 05



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