Average wind speeds have increased since 2010, boosting wind energy

MGE Saratoga wind farm thumbnail image

Average wind speeds in northern mid-latitude regions have increased by 7 per cent since 2010, boosting wind energy production, according to new research published in the journal Nature by scientists at Princeton University.

The research team analyzed data from 9,000 weather stations since the late 1970s. They found that while wind speeds decreased by about 2.3% per decade beginning in 1978, since 2010 wind speeds have actually been rising at a rate almost three times faster.

The pattern of declining winds in northern mid-latitude regions since the 1980s is a phenomenon known as global terrestrial stilling.

The authors examined the potential causes underlying global terrestrial stilling and its reversal. Previous studies have suggested that increased “roughness” on the Earth’s surface due to urbanization and vegetation has contributed to global terrestrial stilling.

However, the authors of this new research paper believe that the variations of wind speed are more to do with changes in the ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns rather than by vegetation growth and/or urbanization as hypothesized previously.

“We predict that the increasing wind speed trend will continue for 10 years, but we also show that because this is caused by ocean-atmosphere oscillations, maybe a decade later it will reverse again,” said Zeng.

“Knowing about possible downtrends in wind speeds in the longer term can indeed be very useful for planning of future wind power infrastructure,” said Charles Meneveau, a mechanical engineering professor at Johns Hopkins University who was not involved in the study. “This type of research, blending geosciences and engineering to elucidate phenomena of great societal significance, is timely and will increase our understanding of the close connections between climate and society.”

Wind power generation

The unexpected increase in wind speeds is is likely to have played a bigger role in improving the efficiency of wind-farms in the US than technological innovations, Zeng said.

The researchers calculated that the average wind turbine produced 17% more power in 2017 than in 2010. They also predict that wind turbines could generate 37% more power by 2024 than they do today.

Wind power is a form of renewable energy — energy that comes from a source that never depletes. Wind power means the same as wind energy.