Global Winds Pick Up, Boosting Wind Farms

A new study shows that global wind speeds have increased in the last decade, and that may allow wind turbines in the Mountain West to generate more clean energy.

The study, recently published in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that global wind speeds had been slowing down for about 30 years. But then, in 2010, thanks to changing ocean-atmosphere dynamics, that trend reversed and the world started to get windier again.   

If the trend continues, the study predicts, a typical wind turbine will be able to generate 37% more energy by 2024 than it could in 2010.

“The basic story is it’s good news,” said Tim Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University and co-author of the study. “The wind has picked up again and it means that if you care about wind power that’s good news.”

Searchinger said roughly half of the uptick in wind energy production efficiency over the last decade or so can be attributed to this increase in wind speed, while the other half is probably due to improved technology.

“We predict that the increasing wind speed trend will continue for 10 years,” Zhenzhong Zeng, the study’s lead author, was quoted as saying, “but we also show that because this is caused by ocean-atmosphere oscillations, maybe a decade later it will reverse again.”

Before that happens, Searchinger said, states with substantial wind resources like Colorado and Wyoming may get a boost.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.