Wind power issues

One of the limits to wind is low energy density. A research paper out of Norway looked at the energy density of various sources. Energy density is measured as terawatt-hours per square kilometer, on an annual basis.

Their graph shows that, on a linear scale, wind is almost impossible to see.

Onshore wind requires about 370x the land area for the production of the equivalent amount of energy as nuclear. Offshore requires 200x the area of nuclear.

The study finds that to meet today’s total global electricity demands using wind would require land area equal to about Brazil — or about 3% of all global land area. And this includes Antarctica.

The point is not that the world would ever try to meet all of its need with wind, but it does place limits and impose costs. NIMBY, for example, becomes a larger factor. The extra space requirements lead to higher connection costs.

Spatial energy density of large-scale electricity generation from power sources worldwide



The difference, I would think obviously, is that you can still use the land under and around a windmill for various things: farming, recreation, etc. whereas you can’t use the land within a nuclear complex for anything else. I dunno, can you picnic at a coal generating station? Seems a metric that’s a bit fraught.


If they want NIMBY, they don’t get power. Which will they choose?

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And that still leaves NIMBY and environmental issues, as well as the increased grid costs. As I’ve posted before, connection costs for on-shore wind are about 4x higher than for nuclear and 12x higher than for nat gas. Off-shore wind multiples those numbers by almost three.

Wendy had a thread last year which she titled “U.S. power grid inadequate for exploiting wind and solar power” which is certainly related to energy density.

A different source of power? The power they already have?


I’m not sure I understand your comment. You can use the other 369/370, or 99.73% of the land area for various things such as farming, recreation, etc. 99.73% is sufficiently close to 100% as to not make any meaningful difference at all.

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I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a windmill farm located on tillable acreage (farming). That’s because each windmill has a gravel road going to its base. That makes running farm implements difficult. Ranchers like windmill farms because they provide a nice revenue stream for them that doesn’t impact their ranching operations.

And as for locating recreational activities near them I think the noise that the windmills make would make the recreational activity less enjoyable.

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Every source of energy has limits and impose costs. Some are more detrimental to human welfare than others.

Nuclear is not renewable, is very expensive, has long construction time, has safety issues and radioactive waste issues.

Natural gas is not renewable, is a fossil fuel, is cheap, has green house gas emissions that are as bad as coal and requires extensive pipelines. However, it can be mixed with hydrogen to reduce emissions or eliminated when hydrogen is available.

Hydro has limited expansion possibilities and environmental issues.


You have misinterpreted. You can site windmills all over farmland and still have farmland. Nuke sites have to be sited next to water for cooling. Sure, they take a smaller footprint, but nothing else can happen in that footprint. With a wind farm you can do lots of other things, and sometimes (like mountain ridges/tops) you can put them where you can’t do anything else anyway.


They are sick and tired of breathing bad air from coal fired power plants they already have.

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I skimmed through the article. I think he is using the term farmland for all agriculture land. There is a difference between pasture and crop land.

Wind farms are a common site here in Kansas. I don’t ever recall seeing one located in a tillable piece of land due to the gravel roads that are required for each stand.

The author is correct though. Ranchers love them because they do generate extra revenue for their operation.

Go back and skim the picture at the top of that article. Clearly wind turbines above a crop field.

Or here’s another:

Corn, this time.

Yes, there need to be access roads, but there are lots of other requirements as well. Proximity to the grid is a big one, and distance from neighbors because of noise is another. One of the biggest is that “farms” are not necessarily contiguous property; many are plots of relatively small acreage which the farmer reaches with his equipment on various roadways. (The husband of a friend was a farmer in Illinois; he had a half-dozen acreages, some owned, some leased, some share-cropped, but all within about 10 miles. He let me drive the combine once! For about 100 yards.)
The article linked talks about this issue as it relates to Wisconsin, and I suspect it’s similar in many states.

I’m not saying “Oh you can take any old piece of farmland and put up wind turbines” because you can’t. Like anything you need to fulfill a whole slew of basic requirements to make it worthwhile. (Later in the article is shows how they sited one field at the perimeter, which maximized the agricultural aspect while still providing adequate access for multiple turbines.)


I’m not sure what the crop is in the first picture. Definitely corn in the second.

I will look for examples of crops/windmills this summer when I’m out cruising the back roads. I just don’t remember ever seeing them though.

My mother-in-law had a fairly large farm/ranch operation in western Oklahoma. Her land was not continuous either. Unfortunately, she didn’t get an offer for any wind turbines to be located on her land but she did get a sizable amount of money for allowing a utility easement across a corner of a pasture. They needed the easement for a transmission line to connect the neighboring wind farms to the grid.

Okay. But the footprint is so minuscule that it doesn’t matter.

Interesting factoid, but I’ve never heard anyone suggest that powering the entire world with wind is even possible. Certainly no one is planning on it.


You are both saying the same thing.

Spacing requirements are less important than the amounts of materials needed for the intermittent renewables, in my opinion. Wind and solar need more steel, concrete, and other materials per terawatt-hour of electricity produced. Below is a portion of a table from the Department of Energy’s Quadrennial Technology Review (Table 10.4, page 390 of the document).

               Tons per TWh
           Nuclear  Wind  Solar PV
Aluminum      0      35     680
Copper        3      23     850
Glass         0      92    2700
Plastic       0     190     210
Cement        0       0    3700
Concrete    760    8000     350
Steel       160    1800    7900

Other types of power generation technologies (coal, natural gas, biomass, hydro, geothermal) are listed in source document, if you are interested, as well as a few other materials.

  • Pete

Does that include the materials used in storage and disposal of the waste?

Yet they are NIMBY. Their choice–power? Or not? The coal plants are shutting down.

They will use NG or renewables when it is final.

I think you have made a couple of serious mistake in the direct comparison table.

  1. This 10 year old out of date data. Wind and Solar PV data has improved.
  2. The table in the document shows for Nuclear the heading says generator generator and for Wind and Solar PV the heading says upstream collection and generator. This seems strange.