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  Cornell University

MAE Publications and Papers

Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

New article: Potential Contribution of Wind Energy to Climate Change Mitigation

Article:  Barthelmie RJ, Pryor SC; (2014)  Potential Contribution of Wind Energy to Climate Change Mitigation, Nature Climate Change, 4(8): 684-688


Abstract:  It is still possible to limit greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the 2 degrees C warming threshold for dangerous climate change(1). Here we explore the potential role of expanded wind energy deployment in climate change mitigation efforts. At present, most turbines are located in extra-tropical Asia, Europe and North America(2,3), where climate projections indicate continuity of the abundant wind resource during this century(4,5). Scenarios from international agencies indicate that this virtually carbon-free source could supply 10-31% of electricity worldwide by 2050 (refs 2,6). Using these projections within Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) climate forcing scenarios(7), we show that dependent on the precise RCP followed, pursuing a moderate wind energy deployment plan by 2050 delays crossing the 2 degrees C warming threshold by 1-6 years. Using more aggressive wind turbine deployment strategies delays 2 degrees C warming by 3-10 years, or in the case of RCP4.5 avoids passing this threshold altogether. To maximize these climate benefits, deployment of non-fossil electricity generation must be coupled with reduced energy use.


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