Wind power is slowing down due to climate change

According to researchers, global warming may impact the planet’s wind power speeds. This ‘stilling’ could affect wind energy production and plant growth and might even change the Gulf Stream, which drives much of the world’s climate.

Wind speeds around the world seem to be decreasing in a phenomenon known as ‘stilling’ and European scientists are hoping to find out why.

Few people have probably noticed, but the world’s winds are getting slower. It is something that cannot be picked up by watching the billowing of dust or listening to the rustle of leaves on nearby trees.

Instead, it is a phenomenon occurring on a different scale, as the average global wind power speed close to the surface of the land decreases. And while it is not affecting the whole earth evenly, the average terrestrial wind speed has decreased by 0.5 kilometres per hour every decade, according to data starting in the 1960s.

Europe has seen unusually light winds in the summer and early autumn of 2021. The resulting slowdown in wind power production is being partially blamed for the current energy crisis.

wind power
Angelica Reyn

A slowing in surface winds could disrupt the Gulf Stream, contributing to drought and more intense winter storms.

According to a recent study in Nature, the Arctic has, since 1979, been warming four times faster than the rest of the world. That’s much quicker than scientists had previously thought, and this warming could presage an even steeper decline in wind than anticipated. Another factor possibly contributing to stilling is an increase in “surface roughness” — an uptick in the number and size of urban buildings, which act as a drag on winds.

Wind has been an overlooked element of climate change studies, which helps explain why the debate over these trends continues.

Another recent study found that there will be regional and seasonal variability in winds in the United States as carbon dioxide levels increase: by 2100, wind speeds will decrease over most of the western U.S. and the East Coast, but the central U.S. will see an increase. Several other studies predict similar variability — both regional and seasonal — worldwide.

A stilling or an increase in winds could have serious repercussions for both the human and non-human world. “Wind affects plant growth, reproduction, distribution, death and ultimately plant evolution,” wrote the plant physiologist P.S. Nobel in a 1981 paper titled “Wind as an Ecological Factor.”

wind power
Jem Sanchez

Brisk winds can help relieve cities choking on pollution and replace stagnant air with fresh. Slower winds, on the other hand, exacerbate the misery of heat waves, which are predicted to become more frequent and longer lasting. Slow winds also make it more difficult for planes to take off because pilots rely on headwinds for lift. In the last 30 years, the maximum takeoff weight for an Airbus 320 has decreased by 4 tons at one airport in Greece, according to Williams, due to both slowing headwinds and rising temperatures.

Global stilling, if it happens, will have a massive impact on alternative energy production.

Meanwhile, at Universal Kraft we will keep working with wind power. Discover our solutions and projects here.

Data originally published at the Yale School of the Environment

Featured image: Kindel Media

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