Carbon Footprint of Wind Energy Debate

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Debate over Carbon Footprint of Wind Energy

Mark Jacobson is a Professor of Civil and Environmental engineering at Stanford University. Among other degrees he holds a Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science. Dr. Jacobson is a proponent of wind energy and outlined many of his claims about the future viability of wind energy in the TedTalk debate with environmentalist Stewart Brand. Dr. Jacobson’s argument in the debate claims that we don’t need to turn to nuclear energy for energy support in this country because wind energy has the potential to meet our energy needs without subjection to the negative environmental impact that nuclear technology imposes. It is clear that he feels very passionate about his claim to the extent that, I believe, he over-simplifies the carbon footprint data in an attempt to dramatize how much better wind energy technology is compared to nuclear technology. His claim can be seen at the 11:45 time stamp of the TedTalk.

When addressing the carbon footprint of wind technology, Dr. Jacobson states that the only footprint realized consists of the small area of earth that the base of the turbine pole occupies. He calculates that only 1-3 sq/km would be all that is necessary to provide enough energy to power the entire US vehicle fleet (I think he used this analogy because it is more relatable, not necessarily because he thinks the entire country will be driving electric cars). Dr. Jacobson calculated this productivity would require a total of 73,000-145,000 turbines. He clarifies that the spacing between turbines can be used agriculturally, so that area is not computed into the footprint total. Dr. Jacobson neglects, however, to address other aspects of making wind technology feasible for widespread use in the country that would clearly have an impact on the collective carbon footprint.

Two of the biggest obstacles in the use of wind power are the ability to transmit the energy over long distances to reach populated areas and the need for...
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