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September 12 2012

Could wind power ever meet the world’s energy needs?


At the moment, wind power supplies about 4.1 percent of electric power in the United States. Still a bit player. Yet there’s a whole lot of untapped wind left in the world. Wind whipping through the Great Plains. Wind gusting off the shores. Wind circulating high up in the sky. So what would happen if we tried to harvest all of that wind?

We’d have enough energy to power the world. At least in theory. A new study published this week in Nature Climate Change finds that there’s enough wind potential both on the Earth’s surface and up in the atmosphere to power human civilization 100 times over. Right now, humans use about 18 terawatts of power worldwide. And, technically, the study found, we could extract about 400 terawatts of wind power from the Earth’s surface and 1,800 terawatts of power from the upper atmosphere.

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