The Best Trees To Plant For Global Warming Have Three Blades & Generate Electricity

 

 

Wind turbines among treesWind turbines among trees image courtesy US Department of the Interior (usgs.gov)

Recently, I was asked whether it was better to plant trees or build a wind farm to fight global warming. It’s an interesting question, given that reforestation has been in the headlines so much recently. The answer, calculated further down, is that if there’s an option to build wind energy, that’s better than planting trees.

A wind farm is about 8 times more effective at reducing CO2e annually than a forest, and the reduction is permanent, not temporary. Additionally, it eliminates a bunch of other air and water pollution, and reduces habitat destruction.

This isn’t to say “Don’t plant trees!” of course. That would be silly. But where there’s a good wind resource, if you can swing building a wind farm instead of spending the money on a forest, the world will be better off in the long run.

First though, the question raised an interesting false dichotomy. A false dichotomy is a dichotomy that is not jointly exhaustive (there are other alternatives), or that is not mutually exclusive (the alternatives overlap), or that is possibly neither.

Wind generation and trees (shorter ones, not California’s red giants) can co-exist easily and often do. One might think an actual dichotomy would be wind vs solar energy. But no, hybrid wind solar farms work just fine.

Imagine of wind turbines and solar panels courtesy Washington State Department of Commerce

A hybrid wind-solar farm. Image courtesy: Washington State Department of Commerce

And sometimes, there isn’t even an option to planting trees.

Offshore wind farm

Offshore wind farm. Image courtesy: US Department of Energy NREL

As Mark Z. Jacobson, the Stanford professor behind the 100% renewable plans for 139 countries by 2050, said when I asked him about this:

Wind turbines occupy the least footprint on the ground of any energy technology. The spacing area between them is always dual-purpose, so can be used for forestry, agricultural land, or solar panels.

That said, wind farms have one set of environmental advantages and trees have an overlapping set of advantages.

…Yeah, the wind farm would prevent the emission of about 8 times as much CO2e per year as the trees. And it would also prevent the sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxide, particulate, and hydrocarbon pollution emissions. And it would prevent the habitat destruction and water pollution related to the extraction, refinement and shipping of the fossil fuels. MORE

Wind Farm Coming? Here’s What To Expect & How To Help Your Community

 

Wind farms remain the most environmentally benign form of electrical generation we have ever managed to create, with solar farms a close second. They have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per MWh, full life cycle. They mix boundary layers of air over fields, drawing moisture and warmth at night down to growing plants, reducing the likelihood of frost and increasing yields. They shade livestock. They take up about 1% of agricultural land in the areas that they spread across, usually the less arable corners, and perhaps 2% when placed on ridgelines. Their few downsides, such as the low bird and bat mortality figures, pale in comparison to the toll of fossil fuels both directly and through global warming.

But that doesn’t mean that they are universally accepted by communities where they are being established. It’s important to provide care and feeding to those communities, to provide them the immunization that they often require from those irrationally or ideologically opposed to wind energy and to assist them in healing breaches that occur. Wind farms bring change, and change is often difficult.

The vast majority of opposition to wind farms occurs before they are built.

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100% Clean Energy & Cars In 20 Years Is Viable (But Unlikely)

Image result for wind farm china
Wind farm in Xinjiang, China

The two biggest hitters causing global warming are electrical
generation using fossil fuels and transportation using fossil fuels. If we made all electricity carbon neutral, most of which would come from wind and solar generation, that would be about a third of the problem. If we made all vehicles run off of carbon-neutral electricity (or biofuels where electricity just won’t cut it, an increasingly small niche), that would deal with another third of the problem or so.

This action would have a huge impact on global warming targets. Could we do it in 20 years globally in a crash plan? Let’s start with what it looks like today, or at least in 2016 per the IEA. Globally, we generated about 25,000 TWH of electricity (reminder on units: KWH, MWH, GWH then TWH, each 1000 of the previous unit).

Could we replace 16,250 TWH of electrical generation with wind and solar in 20 years? Well, it’s not actually that hard to generate a TWH of electricity.

A single 2.5 MWH wind turbine running for a year with a mediocre capacity factor of 35% will generate 7,665 MWH. To get a TWH, you’d need 130 of them, a reasonably sized wind farm of 325 MW capacity. For context, the Gansu Wind Farm in China is already at 8,000 MW capacity and is expected to reach 20,000 MW capacity by 2020, 60 times larger.

A solar farm is a bit different and has a typically lower capacity factor. Let’s go with a middling 20%. To get a TWH you’d need a solar farm with a capacity of around 570 MW. For context, a couple of solar farms in India are 1,000 MW and 2,000 MW capacity 2-4 times the capacity. MORE

New Analysis: Wind Energy Developers Leaving Field Of Social Media To NIMBYs

If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, Twitter, or for that matter in comment sections, you’ve probably seen them. The people who virulently hate wind energy. The irrational ones who ignore the clear science that shows that it’s perfectly healthy, that windows and cats kill orders of magnitude more birds, and who refuse to accept the evidence from around the world that it’s cheap and easy to integrate into grids. Often they are global warming deniers as well.


Photo by Sam Forson from Pexels

But who you won’t see are wind farm developers or their representatives. They manage billions of dollars of investment and multi-year approval and construction schedules, but communication through one of the new channels of this century is given short shrift. MORE