Wind Farm Energy Could Meet All Our Electrical Needs

If We Can Look Beyond Our Gas Pump Addictions...

Recent research at Stanford University in the US revealed that the entire world’s electrical needs could be met if 8 million windmills were built to a height of about 300 feet in various regions both on land and offshore. While getting the international cooperation to actually undertake such a large scale engineering project would be politically unlikely today, the technical aspects of such an idea are conceivable, and could change the way we think about and use electrical power.

There are many paths to finding a way to meet our energy demands without relying largely on imported fossil fuels for the coming decades. It just takes a little optimism and ingenuity to research their potential. T. Boone Pickens, an American business leader, is one good example of a pioneer with a plan to utilize natural gas resources in the US to replace foreign oil.

Just how practical is the idea of building 8 million windmills to generate electrical power however? Setting aside technical issues like the need to store energy during peak generation periods and release it when the wind slows down, just how much of an economic burden would it be to share the building of such a massive number of wind-farms on a global scale? If we use the CIA Factbook to take the top 16 nations worldwide by GDP, we can equitably spread the need for each top nation to build a share of these 8 million windmills.

Below #16 on the nation list, annual GDP drops below the trillion dollar mark, so this is just a somewhat arbitrary cutoff point. The US tops the list if you don’t count the European Union as a whole, (which is actually #1) with a GDP of about 15 trillion dollars, and #16 on the list is Turkey, just crossing the line at a trillion dollars a year in GDP as of 2011.

Together the top 16 nations worldwide had about 56.5 trillion dollars in GDP as of 2011. The breakdown for how many windmills each nation would be responsible for building as an equitable spread among these top 16 countries by GDP would follow this pattern: the US with about 27% of this GDP share would be required to build a little over two million windmills. China with about 19.5% of the share would be required to build 1.6 million windmills. On down the list, Japan and India would each be required to build about 640,000 windmills, France, Russia, the UK and Brazil each about 320,000, Canada, 192,000 and Turkey at the bottom of the list, 136,000 windmills.

These numbers of course are extremely high if we look at this as a short term project, but on a long term scale it seems more workable. Denmark is a good example of an early attempt to supply energy by wind power. As of 2010 it had about 6,000 windmills meeting 20% of its energy demands, and it has increased this to supply 50% of their needs as of 2012 (about 15,000 windmills). Looking at Denmark’s GDP, it is down at #52 on the global list, only estimated at bringing in 206 billion dollars annually, which is 20% of Turkey’s economy. Where the analysis showed Turkey would have to build 136,000 windmills, twenty percent of Turkey’s share of the 8 million wind mill plan would be about 21,000 windmills, which is pretty close to what Denmark has already achieved.

Over a long time scale of several decades a global commitment by many nations to sharing wind generated power could develop. Other methods could also be used to spread the responsibility around, with nations like Indonesia contributing large areas of undeveloped shoreline, or regions in the plains states in the US or vast unpopulated frontiers in central Russia, China or desert regions of Africa being used as well. These geographic locations could be traded in the same spirit as the carbon credits idea to locate the wind farms in ideal wind corridors and equitably distribute the power they generate.

Even if the plan were scaled back to only generate 25% of the Earth’s electrical needs, cutting the total windmill count to 2 million turbines, such an alternate energy strategy could have a significant impact on global commerce. (Denmark already shares much of its wind based energy with neighboring European nations).

As of 2012, the top 60 to 70 nations in the world brought in hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars a year in GDP and a small fraction of this could be devoted to building wind energy resources as Denmark has shown is possible. Like T. Boone Picken’s visionary idea for using the vast natural gas reserves in the US to offset petroleum needs, such ideas require a broad vision of the future and international political cooperation to work.

A multi-generational view of how to best use Earth’s dwindling natural resources while supplanting them with renewable energy is required. The planet becomes smaller and smaller with each generation, with cooperation ever more important if we are to survive as a species. Solving the planet’s growing energy crisis and needs is possible today, if we start looking beyond arbitrary borders on a map, and beyond the greed of wanting a profit with every fiscal quarter, to get such transformative projects under way.