[ExI] Efficiency of wind power

John Clark Jonkc at bellsouth.net
Sat Apr 9 04:56:02 UTC 2011

On Apr 7, 2011, at 4:31 AM, Eugen Leitl wrote:

> even terrestrial solar flux is about a factor of 6000 in excess our needs, and 2000 in excess of our
> needs just considered land area.

It's true that the total energy that humans use only accounts to one part in 6000 of the solar energy hitting the planet, but that's still a lot, about 47 terawatts (17 of that from fossil fuels) if you include solar powered green plants that humans use for fuel or food.

Axel Kleidon has calculated the thermodynamic limits of what heat engines and other mechanisms powered by the sun could theoretically produce on the Earth at:

The maximum theoretical amount of power you could extract from wind, is in the range of 18–68 TW, and if you took it that far the environmental change caused by disruption of wind patterns would be considerable.  

Next he figured out what you could realistically expect from biofuels given that the overall photosynthetic efficiency of plants is only 3 to 6 percent of the solar radiation they receive. The most you could get is about 215 TW.
Gravitational engines, tides caused by the sun and moon, could give you another 5TW.

Geothermal: Given that the heat flux from the interior to the surface is less than 0.1 W m^2 the efficiency would be very low and only about 40 TW of free energy could be obtained.

And given the fact that the population is increasing and the number of people demanding to live a good middle class lifestyle is increasing even faster the 47 terawatts that humans currently use is certain to increase, and increase considerably. Unless we have a technological breakthrough long term nuclear fission is the only technology that is economically and thermodynamically feasible. 

  John K Clark 

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