Observing the renewable energy transition from a European perspective

Global Stilling – and then the Wind Stopped Blowing

Science magazine Nature confirms global stilling between 1980-2010, but also a sharp uptick after 2010.

The British DailyMail is not the most active proponent of renewable energy. Yet they have to be taken serious, if they report that over the past 4 decades, there has been a notable decline in average wind speeds, which is bad news for the wind energy industry. And societies that intend to rely heavily on wind energy in the future.

Reason behind the declining wind speeds: climate change. The poles are heating up faster than the territories in temperate zones, reducing the temperature difference, which reduces the wind speeds. It is like with electricity: if the voltage is lower, the current is lower and the power even more so (P=V*I).

[] – Where has the wind gone? ‘Global stilling’ is blamed as wind speeds drop across Europe cutting green energy production – threatening to drive up energy prices even FURTHER

How bad is it?

Global terrestrial stilling is the decrease of wind speed observed near the Earth’s surface (~10-meter height) over the last three decades (mainly since the 1980s), originally termed “stilling”. This slowdown of near-surface terrestrial winds has mainly affected mid-latitude regions of both hemispheres, with a global average reduction of −0.140 m s−1 dec−1 (meters per second per decade) or between 5 and 15% over the past 50 years. With high-latitude (> 75° from the equator) showing increases in both hemispheres. In contrast to the observed weakening of winds over continental surfaces, winds have tended to strengthen over ocean regions. In the last few years, a break in this terrestrial decrease of wind speed has been detected suggesting a recovery at global scales since 2013.

[] – Global terrestrial stilling

For Europe, with its existing and projected large offshore wind parks of many GWs, the effect is negligible. And then there is this:

[] – A reversal in global terrestrial stilling and its implications for wind energy production

The trend of declining wind speeds seems to have been reversed since 2010. And more important:

The declining wind speed trend applies mostly to wind over land, not the seas, strengthening the case for offshore wind. Yet, even if the wind loses a few %, it won’t be a showstopper for the renewable energy transition:

[] – Solar PV to ‘overtake wind by 2023’

Wind power is suitable for highly technologically competent countries, like those bordering the North Sea and Baltic. Countries that can handle 300 m high mega-structures at sea, offering them a minimum of local energy security. In the long run, solar will outpace wind globally, because it is much simpler, cheaper and can be applied anywhere, including countries in the global South. There is no man overboard if Europe will be forced to outsource a considerable part of its hydrogen production to the South, so the latter gets money to buy our (European) products.

Nevertheless, the energy production from wind over the past few months did show that the feared “dark doldrums” are very real and that the success of the renewable energy transition hinges around the success of developing cheap and efficient (electric) energy storage. We’re not there yet.

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