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study in the wind

How wind power could actually warm the atmosphere

Wind power may not be all it's spun up to be.

The seemingly green energy source is still better on emissions than coal or gas, a study from two Harvard researchers published Thursday has found. But if it replaced all of America's electricity sources, wind power would actually end up slightly warming the planet.

Over the next century, climate change is expected to raise global temperatures by 3.5 degrees, the most recent environmental impact statement says. Shifting to zero-emission, fully renewable electric power would actually not just stop global warming but reduce America's average temperatures by .1 degrees Celsius. But if that renewable power is wind, it would increase temperatures by .24 degrees Celsius, the study shows. Compared to the non-renewable forecast, that's still pretty good, but as the study's lead author told Business Insider, "I have no doubt that these results will be misconstrued and misinterpreted."

While the air would get warmer if the U.S. powered electricity with wind, that's just because the spinning turbines disrupt how heat exits the atmosphere, the study explains. It's not global warming caused by climate change, which still makes wind power "enormously cleaner than coal or gas," one researcher said in a statement to MIT Technology Review. Still, that heat could prove significant in the next decade, so "it may make sense to push a bit harder on developing solar power and a bit less hard on wind," the lead author said.

Other scientists and the American Wind Energy Association challenged the study, MIT Technology Review noted. They claim the researchers notably didn't consider how weather conditions and placement of turbines affect warming or look at wind's effects outside of the U.S. or beyond a year. And besides, there's no chance America's entire electric grid will shift to 100 percent wind power in such a short amount of time.