Good news for turbines: Global wind speeds rapidly increased in last decade

Brooks Hays
New research suggests wind speeds are climbing around the globe. File Photo by Teun van den Dries/Shutterstock
New research suggests wind speeds are climbing around the globe. File Photo by Teun van den Dries/Shutterstock

Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Wind speeds are up across the globe, new research suggests. New analysis of wind speed data showed wind speeds have been steadily increasing since 2010.

The findings, published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, marks a turnaround.


To the chagrin of turbine operators, global winds began to slacken beginning in the 1970s, a phenomenon dubbed global terrestrial stilling. The trend has now reversed.

Over 30 years, global wind speeds decreased at a rate of 2.3 percent per decade. Since 2010, wind speeds have increased at rates three times the rate of slowing measured during the period of stilling.

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For the study, scientists analyzed wind speeds measured between 1978 and 2017 at some 9,000 weather stations in Europe, North America and Asia.

Had global winds not rebounded and wind speeds continued to decrease, scientists calculated that the potential of global wind energy would have been cut in half by 2100. Permanent decreases in global wind speeds could hamper efforts to transition to carbon neutral energy sectors.

Today, wind energy accounts for more than 6 percent of global electricity production. That number could increase as more turbine installations come online and the trend in stronger winds continues.

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Should global winds continue to increase at the same rate for the next several years, wind power production could increase by 3.3 million kilowatt hours by 2024.

"This rapid increase in global wind speeds is certainly good news for the power industry," study co-author Adrian Chappell, researcher at Cardiff University, said in news release.

In addition to analyzing wind speed trends, Chappell and his colleagues ran models to identify the cause of the 30-year stilling. Their simulations showed changes in large-scale ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns best explained the slowing trend.

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The study's authors claim important patterns like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Tropical North Atlantic Index have all since reversed, and they are likely to continue driving increases in global wind speeds for another decade.

Scientists suspect the trend will reverse once again in the near future, as large-scale ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns shift again, causing winds to slacken. For now, wind turbine operators can enjoy their growing energy production.

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