A new study scrutinizing the viability and environmental footprint of clean energy solutions has ranked wind as the most promising alternative energy source. The “Review of Solutions to Global Warming, Air Pollution, and Energy Security,” conducted by Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, has pitted wind energy against other popular clean energy options in the first quantitative, scientific analysis of the subject evaluating each option’s environmental, health, and security impacts. The study concluded that wind is the most desirable option, followed in descending order by concentrated solar, geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics, wave, hydroelectric, “clean coal” (coal power with carbon capture and sequestration technology), nuclear, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol.

Jacobson measured each option individually as if it were the sole energy source used to power the entire fleet of U.S. vehicles. His scenario assumes that all vehicles are “new technology” vehicles, powered either by electric batteries, hydrogen fuel cells, or flex-fuel engines that run on ethanol-enriched gasoline, or E85. In this comparative scenario, wind power ranked highest in seven of eleven categories, including two of the most important: mortality and climate damage reduction. Other categories considered in the study were resource abundance, land footprint and spacing, water consumption, effects on wildlife, waste materials, energy supply disruption, and normal operating reliability. Several factors secure wind’s advantage over other sources:
– 99 percent reduction in carbon and air pollution emissions;
– Total turbine footprint (land displaced from other use by wind turbine foundations) of less than three square kilometers of land to run the entire U.S. vehicle fleet (an electric battery fleet);
– Total wind farm footprint (turbine footprints plus considerable land in between turbines that could be used for farming or grazing) of only one half of one percent of U.S land;
– 15,000 lives per year saved from air-pollution-related deaths from vehicle exhaust; and,
– Virtually no water consumption.

The other technologies evaluated in the study, while displaying notable benefits, could not provide the breadth of environmental, health and security reliefs possible with wind power. Biofuels, such as corn and cellulosic ethanol would require huge expanses of land to produce and still pollute at a level on par with, if not worse than, regular gasoline. Although clean coal could eliminate 85-90 percent of the carbon emissions from power plants, it does nothing to account for the land destruction and other pollutants resulting from coal mining and transportation. Jacobson also cites that nuclear power remains a very expensive option and a dangerous one, producing nuclear waste that is difficult to store and potentially radioactive for thousands of years.

“Wind alone isn’t the solution,” Jacobson says, and more work needs to be done until vehicle technology improves to the point where the scenarios of his study become more realistic. However, looking forward, wind continues to stand out as the strongest contender amongst its contemporaries in the search for a viable and truly clean source of alternative energy.