Depending on where an electricity generator is located, global warming may cut into the availability of the very renewable energy resources on which humanity is counting to slow it down.
It’s already clear that small increments of additional average global warming can translate into dramatic consequences, from unprecedented fires to unprecedented rainfall. Those highly visible effects are matched by less obvious ones—like the redistribution of certain climate features around the planet. Precipitation, for example, is moving away from the equator toward the poles.
Now, The Guardian reports that the winds are also changing, with potentially significant implications for the rapidly rising number of wind farms sprouting on every continent.
As different parts of the Earth’s surface warm faster than others, geographic gradients in air temperature and pressure are also shifting, slowing the prevailing winds in some areas and speeding them up others. The temperature and humidity of air also affect the quantity of energy it carries, with denser cold and humid air packing more.
As a result, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder find in a paper published in Nature Geoscience, the wind resource available to generate electricity will also change in affected regions.
“Warming will significantly cut the power of the wind across northern mid-latitudes, including the U.S., the UK and the Mediterranean,” The Guardian writes, citing the research. “In the central U.S., for example, the power of the wind could fall by nearly a fifth” by the end of the century. Japan will lose about 10% of its wind resource by then, the UK 5%.
There will also be winners. The wind energy available in eastern Australia will jump by nearly a quarter; in eastern Brazil by more than a third. And by 2100, West Africa could enjoy a literal windfall gain of 40% in its resource.