Claims that wind farms can have a significant impact on regional climate may have been quashed by a study published in Nature Communications. The findings indicate that the climatic effects of wind farms, such as increases in heat and rainfall, are much weaker than natural climate variability over the majority of Europe.
In an effort to combat climate change, the number of wind farms worldwide has increased dramatically over the past decade, with Europe having the largest continental wind power installed capacity and the highest density of wind farms. It has, however, been suggested that, in areas of intensive wind farm development, wind farms can significantly alter five-day weather forecasts up to several thousand kilometres away, yet studies at the continental scale have not been conducted.
Robert Vautard and colleagues test the climatic effects of the entire current (2012) and proposed future (2020) European wind farm fleet using a sophisticated regional climate model, which describes the interactions between wind turbines and the atmosphere. The team find that although the wind farms establish a weak, yet robust anticyclonic flow over Europe, the only significant impact on daily temperature and rainfall occurs during winter, and this is much weaker than changes in climate expected from natural inter-annual variability.
Wind power represents an important component in the battle against climate change and these findings indicate that current and future European wind farms will have a minimal effect on regional climate.