In a study published recently by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), it was revealed that large wind farms can have a significant effect on near-surface air temperatures. It is believed that the changes are caused by the turbulence created by the rotor blades which, if altered in sized, would limit the impact on the surrounding temperatures.
In addition to the proposed rotor blade minimisation, it is also believed that by situating wind farms in areas which are naturally turbulent, the influence of the turbines could be reduced.
The discoveries were first recorded some 21 years ago, when a meteorological study was completed on a wind farm site in San Gorgonio, California. The team carrying out the research, led by Somnath Baidya Roy of the University of Illinois, conducted multiple computer simulations of a wind farm using a Regional Atmospheric Modelling System (RAMS).
It is only now that the data has been published, with the findings and recommendations providing the next logical step in wind farm development. The research team concluded that the wind turbines at San Gorgonio wind farm were responsible for the notable temperature fluctuations, causing a warming of the air near the surface at night, and a cooling throughout the day.
Dr Roy explained that the effects ranged from a temperature decrease of 0.4C°, to a rise of 1.5C°. For the professor, the resolution lies in two strategies – the alteration of wind turbine rotor size, and the designation of high natural turbulence sites for wind farm development. The first tactic is an expensive one, but would contribute towards increased productivity levels according to Dr Roy.
The second proposal is hindered by the obvious limitations created by allowing the construction of wind farms in certain environments, especially when the range of sites eligible is already subject to stringent criteria.
For the research team involved in the study, it is crucial that steps are taken to address this issue. The reasoning behind their concern is the affectation of the air temperature change on crop production. As a self-designated “proponent of renewable energy”, Somnath Baidya Roy seeks to ensure the most efficient and environmentally beneficial implementation of wind turbines.
Despite the revelations of the effects of wind farm technology on the surrounding area, any concerns are dwarfed by the ongoing threats to agriculture from fossil fuels and deforestation. For most, the benefits of wind energy far outweigh any side effects. Jonathan Scurlock, chief adviser on climate change and renewable energy at the National Farmers Union, insisted that wind energy was “one of many measures which can be used to mitigate climate change”.
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