December 4, 2005

More of Third World fit for wind power: UN study

By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Windmills have far bigger than
expected potential for generating electricity in the Third
World, according to new U.N. wind maps of countries from China
to Nicaragua.

"Our studies show about 13 percent of the land area has
potential for development," Tom Hamlin of the U.N. Environment
Program told Reuters on the fringes of a U.N. climate

Previously, he said, maybe just 1 percent of developing
nations was judged sufficiently windy, discouraging governments
and investors from considering the nonpolluting source as an
alternative to burning oil, coal or natural gas.

The new maps, part of a $9.3 million study, use data from
satellites, balloons and other sources to model winds in 19
developing nations.

In the past, wind potential was based on data from
meteorological stations that were often built in Third World
countries too close to trees or buildings which braked winds.

Or winds were typically gauged at airports -- not built in
the windiest locations. "It's very consistent," Hamlin said.
"The weather data was not reliable and generally low."

Among the nations surveyed, Nicaragua, Mongolia and Vietnam
had the greatest potential with about 40 percent of the land
area suitable for windmills.

Least promising was Bangladesh, with just 0.2 percent of
the land area suited to windmills, along with countries
including Cuba and Ghana.

Hamlin said the U.N. maps, part of the Solar and Wind
Energy Resource Assessment, could help poor nations facing high
bills for oil imports. "A lot of what's really driving
investments is the price of oil," he said.

In Nicaragua, for instance, the government in the 1980s
estimated the nation's wind power potential at just 200
megawatts. The U.N. map estimates its potential at 40,000
megawatts, a rough equivalent of 40 nuclear power plants.

The study defines suitable areas as those that could
generate 300 watts per square meter (10.8 square feet), needing
winds of at least 6.4-7.0 meters (21-23 feet) per second at 50
meters (164 feet) above the ground.

The U.N. talks, from November 28 to December 9, are looking
at ways to step up a fight against global warming, widely
blamed on a buildup of heat-trapping gases released by burning
fossil fuels.