Big dumb science question

So I was reading about billionaire T. Boone Pickens promoting wind power. After a good long snigger at his name, I read that he wants us to take advantage of the “wind corridor” that apparently stretches down from Canada to Texas, presumeably through the midwest.

So, my question:

Let’s say you blanketed a friggin’ enormous area with windmills. Wind hits windmills, windmills turn, wind slows down. You’ve effectively taken energy out of the weather system and transferred it somewhere else.

Global warming is the overall rise of energy input into the system from the sun, due to less loss of energy because of greenhouse gases insulating the tropo . . . strato . . . earthosphere, or whatever.

Could a continent-stretching windmill farm remove enough energy from the atmosphere (assuming that most of it wouldn’t be dumped right back in by electrical uses as heat) to make a localized or larger difference in the global warming trend? Or is it just a drop in the solar bucket?


I don’t think it’s taking energy from the atmosphere per-se, just from the wind that the atmosphere created. I don’t think wind ties into the tropostratoearthosphere that way, it’s just a by-product. You would just be decreasing wind (if you could even do that) by a bit – so what? And anyway the windmills are on a very low level (elevation) so the vast majority of the wind is going over them.

And you would need an absolute fuckload of windmills to make a difference.

Not that I know what I’m talking about :)

I have no idea what the science behind this is but I wonder if it would have a big ecological effect if we added enough windmills to have an impact on our energy consumption.

Dams seemed like a fine idea but as anyone who has taken a boat up the Colorado river from California lately can tell you…oh wait.

You can’t make the assumption that you make.

1st Law of Thermodynamics = Energy can’t be created or destroyed.

Any energy sucked up comes out somewhere else.

Right, but Houngan is wondering if the energy that shows up is no longer part of the weather system, and if that has an ecological effect. I think the answer is no. The energy is massive compared the amount we could realistically harness with windmills. I don’t think a windmill really slows down wind at all. The water comparison wildpokerman makes is apt. Waterwheels and other generators don’t slow down water. They harness the movement of gravity.

Wind isn’t exactly gravity per se. It’s pressure changes. But you don’t slow a pressure change by putting something in front of it, at least not to the overall system. Put it this way. Blow out of your mouth. Now put your finger in front of your mouth and blow. Is it any harder?

From talking to some of my super big brained science friends about this, people who work in the field of weather modeling, they say the energy we would be taking via wind farms is such a tiny tiny fraction of the power involved, there would be no impact. Particularly since the vast majority of what actually controls the weather systems occur way up higher than the windfarms. What happens down on the ground is almost insignificant by comparison.

Several years ago this very topic came up in a geology class I was taking (don’t remember how or why, but we often had tangent rants). The prof was explaining how it could cause all kinds of problems similar to global warming citing an article in a science journal. Luckily enough I still have my class notes and was able to dig it up online:

I personally took it with a grain of salt.

I think the issue he’s talking about is what happens after your finger. My totally unscientific guess is that the windmills are so small compared to the wind system (or whatever) passing through that their effect would be negligible.

Yeah, that was in my post too. I was just adding the rest in case that wasn’t his point.

Yeah, you can pretty much ignore the question because it would be impossible to build enough windmills to make a difference – remember there are many miles of wind above your head, so even if the earth’s surface was optimally covered with 100 meter high windmills, most of the wind would still be rushing by unimpeded…

Furthermore, some vast amount of low altitude wind energy is already “lost” by the wind just scraping along the ground, blowing through leaves, blowing around mountains, and stuff like that, so building windmills is just moving some of the “loss” around.

On the other hand, mountain ranges do affect the weather. So theoretically, a mountain-sized windmill farm could make an impact.

On the other hand, mountain ranges typically rise to 20-30 times the height of your average windmill so they deflect a lot more wind.

The only real downside is that you’d be killing a ton of birds. There’s a big wind farm east of San Francisco and it takes a hit on the bird population.

The upside is that most birds deserve it because they are racist.

Re: the various people who said it is too small to make a difference; that’s what I figured.

As for the thermo of the whole thing, remembering that pv = nrt, and wind movement is caused by pressure fronts, which in turn are temperature dependent. Would taking energy (kinetic) out of a fluid system like wind decrease the temperature after it regained equilibrium, or solely kinetic energy? Is that possible, to slow wind without changing the pressure characteristics of the whole thing? After all, speed affects pressure, and pressure affects temperature, ergo . . .


This is kind of like swinging our probes around Jupiter for a gravitational assist. Our probes our getting a big boost, but they do it by taking away orbital velocity from Jupiter. On such a microscopic scale that it’s effectively meaningless.

But throw enough probes up there, (we’d need a lot more mass than Earth itself has) and you could in theory affect Jupiter’s orbit.

Throw enough windmills out there and yes, you could effect the Earth’s atmosphere. I don’t have the numbers, I doubt anyone does, but something like covering the entire surface of the earth as well as most of the seas with artificial windmills would probably have a noticeable effect.