Windy Europe

An study conducted by scientists from the University of Sussex and Aarhus University concludes that the European continent has enough potential for wind power to meet global energy demand. According to this analysis if European on shore wind power were to be fully developed it could produce 52.2 TW of power.

The top three countries in regard of wind potential, are according to the researchers: Turkey, Russia and Norway. Other countries with high potential are Iceland, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria.

Interesting to note is that the top three countries are non-EU members. And two of them, Russia and Norway, are already major energy suppliers (oil and gas) for the European market. And if add Iceland, Turkey and Ukraine, switching to hundred percent wind power would make the EU even more reliant upon non-member states than it already does.

Of course, using wind power as the sole source of (renewable) energy is unfeasible for many reasons. First of all, millions of wind turbines need to be constructed and this requires a lot of material sources – including scarce ones. The increased demand for these materials will substantially raise the costs of wind power.

However, as Russia is extremely rich in mineral resources, it is probably one of the very few countries in the world that could actually switch to a massive construction of wind turbines without having to increase its import. Also such a program would allow the country to use its resources to create a permanent flux of income.

And we are not just considering the huge amount of labor that will be needed. Though this seems to be a good project to pursue full employment, due to the demographic situation in both the EU and Russia such a program will most likely require a lot of additional immigrant workers.

Another issue that needs to be addressed is intermittence. As the peaks and dips in the availability of wind does not necessarily correlate with those in the demand for energy, some kind of energy storage will be required. I have discussed synthetic fuels ad nauseam at this site but since they are basically the same as fossil fuels, existing infrastructure could be used to export those from Russia into Europe.

There is quite some research regarding so-called power-to-liquid technologies. The general idea is to use electricity, water and carbon dioxide from the air to produce hydrocarbons. Unlike fossil fuels these synfuels won’t increase the overall amount of carbon dioxide – nor will it actually decrease.

Of course, synfuel production requires a way to remove carbon dioxide from the air. Fortunately, this is also a topic of numerous research programs. For instance a group of scientist at MIT have developed a method that can extract CO2 from air regardless of concentration.

The main advantage of synfuels over electric batteries, is that the former can store more energy per unit mass than the latter. This of particular importance for aviation and heave transport. And the use and distribution of synfuels does not require any new infrastructure. This will significantly ease the adoption of synfuels.

Though wind power and synthetic fuels might be technically possible, their economic feasibility depends on the price of oil. Since synfuel production does require substantial investments, it can only be profitable if the unit cost of synfuel is less than the price of oil.

In theory the Russian Federation could strengthen its energy grip on Europe by adopting a program to convert windpower into synthetic fuels and exporting it through its existing channels for fossil fuel export. Especially if the German-Russian energy partnership continues. However, it seems unlike that the Kremlin will adopt such a policy in the near future as President Putin has dismissed windpower as detrimental to avian populations.

One response

  1. This is interesting.

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