Nobel laureate: Wind is not the future

One of the world's leading physicists warns that wind energy is a waste of resources and that solar energy should be the focus.

While the Obama administration has expressed increasing hopes that wind power will play a key role in America's future energy system, one of the world's leading scientists is ruling out the technology.

Jack Steinberger, the 1968 Nobel Prize winner in physics and director of CERN's particle-physics laboratory, spoke at a conference of Nobel laureates at the 350-year-old Royal Society in London last week.

His conclusion: "Wind is not the future," according to the London Times.

Jack Steinberger
Jack Steinberger Nobelprize.org

Steinberger says Europe should cancel its big wind plans and that solar energy is the future.

Historical resources in the energy-hungry world are being depleted, he said, predicting that fossil fuels, coal, and oil will be gone in 60 years. But the solution, he asserted, is not wind power.

The reason? Wind power still requires backup power when the wind isn't blowing, and that decreases its contribution to emissions reductions.

On the other hand, solar thermal power--where collectors concentrate sunlight using mirrors and lenses to produce electric power and heat--is already economical and can handle the storage problem, he said. The heat produced can be stored, enabling solar thermal plants to produce electricity during hours without sunlight.

Steinberger now wants funding for a big pilot project.

The idea is to link solar thermal power from Northern Africa to Europe via high-voltage undersea cables. The proposed 3- to 3.5-gigawatt power plant would cost an estimated $32 billion to build. Steinberger believes that 80 percent of Europe's energy needs could be met by solar thermal power plants in the Sahara by 2050.

In the U.S., which has the world's largest installed base of wind power, the Obama administration has pinned high hopes on wind, with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar recently expressing hope that wind power could replace coal .

Meanwhile, the 1976 Nobel Prize winner in physics, professor Burton Richter of Stanford University, agreed that solar energy is a promising new technology, but speaking at the Royal society conference, did not want to rule out wind as a future energy source.

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    Erik Palm, a business reporter for Swedish national television, is joining CNET News as a spring 2009 fellow with Stanford University's Innovation Journalism program. When he's not working, he enjoys kayaking and exploring California's hiking trails. E-mail Erik.

     

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