The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Little Limit to the Amount of Wind Energy

Two groups of scientists say we can take as much wind power as we need without changing the climate

3 min read
wind mills in the ocean at sunset.

11 September 2012—The wind may qualify as a renewable resource, but “renewable” has its limits. Exactly how much energy we can feasibly pull from the wind has been something of a controversial question in recent years, with some studies suggesting that wind power is not the planet saver it’s cracked up to be. Simulations unveiled this week by scientists in Delaware and California, though, argue that if anything, economics and politics will hold wind development back, rather than geophysical limits.

Wind-power systems work by taking the kinetic energy of wind and turning it into mechanical energy in the turbine to create electrical energy. Laws of physics tell us that the total amount of energy can’t change, so at least a minor slowing of the wind is expected as it passes through the turbine.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

Keep Reading ↓Show less