Climate Change Can Affect Local Wind Power Resources

As wind power becomes a more important part of electricity production around the world there will be increased efforts to locate suitable regions with high wind power density where wind farms can be developed. Normally, wind farm sites are selected based on the proximity of transmission lines, the environmental impact of installing turbines, and the abundance of wind resources in the area. This process fails to take into account possible future changes in wind availability due to variations in surrounding vegetation, or even global climate change. De Lucena et al. (2009) project that wind conditions in Brazil may actually improve as the climate changes, making investment in new wind farms an attractive prospect. — Noah Proser 
De Lucena, A.F.P., Szklo, A.S., Schaeffer, R., Dutra, R.M., 2009. The vulnerability of wind power to climate change in Brazil. Renewable Energy 35, 904–912.

 In this study, researchers examined the A2 (high future CO2 emissions) and B2 (low future CO2 emissions) IPCC scenarios using a downscaled, regional HadCM3 general circulation model (GCM). They focused on Brazil, which has a flourishing market for renewable energies, especially wind power. Though wind power density is affected by both wind speed and wind shear, they were only able to project the average wind speeds for the region due to the limitations of the GCM. Furthermore, there is no way to account for factors like future changes in vegetation, and land use that can also affect wind power density.
Overall, De Lucena et al. demonstrate very little certainty regarding their predictions. Even with advanced climate models, it is impossible to account for all of the factors affecting wind power density in an area. Matters are further complicated by man-made changes in vegetation like deforestation. Such changes can have huge effects on wind patterns; however, they cannot be effectively modeled.

Nonetheless, the study does provide some important insights. Unlike conventional power plants, which have a quantifiable supply of fuel, renewable sources depend on resources that are in constant flux. Just as hydroelectric power plants are dependent on rain to renew their water sources, wind farms are subject to changing wind patterns. Brazil may, in fact, gain better wind resources due to climate change. Though this projection is relatively uncertain, it highlights the dependence of wind power on climate conditions and it is important that energy investors and regulators are aware of this dependence when planning for renewable energies.

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