According to new climate modeling data, the Northern hemisphere's wind farms could see a dramatic downturn in productivity over the next hundred years, as climate change disrupts some of the key drivers that shape the world's wind patterns. The news is better down South.

Wind power generation is increasing at an average of 22 percent per year, much of it in the Northern hemisphere. But a climate researchers out of Boulder, Colorado, have warned that wind farm investors should pay heed to what climate change will mean for their power yields.

According to a paper released by Kristopher Karnauskas, Julie K. Lindquist and Lei Zhang, warmer temperatures at the North Pole will reduce the temperature difference between the arctic and the equator, a key driver of the strong winds that wind farms have relied on in the mid-latitude Northern hemisphere.

The team sees possible declines in wind energy production in key areas: Northern America, Japan, Mongolia and the Mediterranean moving toward the end of the century. "Europe is a big question mark," says Karnauskas. "We have no idea what we'll see there. That's almost scary, given that Europe is producing a lot of wind energy already."

The forecast for the Southern hemisphere changes depending on how carbon dioxide emissions are managed in the intervening years. The group's research suggests that if carbon emissions remain high, areas like Brazil, West Africa, South Africa and Australia could be in for significantly more wind.

This is because there's vastly more ocean than land in the southern hemisphere, and land heats up much faster than the sea. This temperature gradient is good news for wind farms.

If carbon emissions are kept low, however, the group believes it's likely that wind farms in the Northern hemisphere will lose power without any rise in power in the Southern hemisphere.

The group sees its initial research as a roadmap for further study, which could assist countries in deciding where to invest in wind technology as they try to meet their renewable energy goals.

Source: Nature Geoscience, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

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