Open-ocean wind farms

According to the authors, if commercial-scale open-ocean wind turbines could be produced, open-ocean wind farms that are spread across approximately 3 million square kilometers could meet the current annual global energy demand of 18 terawatts. It was published in PNAS by Anna Possner, a researcher from the Carnegie Institute; along with Ken Caldeira, from Stanford University's Carnegie Institution for Science. At onshore facilities, each turbine weakens the power generation potential of each additional turbine downwind of it in a phenomenon known as a "wind shadow". The energy that turbines tap into starts as faster winds at higher altitudes, which are brought down towards the surface.

The study found that such a huge wind farm could capitalize on low-pressure systems throughout the winter which more efficiently combine the upper atmospheric winds with the surface level winds, producing greater yields in wind farm power generation potential. They informed that although there is a lot of wind flowing over Earth's land, it has an upper limit.

As a result, more energy is drawn from the atmosphere than over land, which helps to combat the problem of turbine drag.

According to their research, wind farms in the North Atlantic could provide sufficient energy to meet the entire planet's needs over winter.

But that drops significantly in the summer - in this climate, the wind farm wouldn't even generate enough power for the entirety of Europe.

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"There is something special about some ocean environments and there are places like the North Atlantic where the Gulf Stream and all of its heat is pouring into the atmosphere", said Caldeira.

Possner said: "We found that giant ocean-based windfarms are able to tap into the energy of the winds throughout much of the atmosphere, whereas windfarms onshore remain constrained by the near-surface wind resources". This contrast in surface warming along the USA coast drives the frequent generation of cyclones or low-pressure systems, that cross the Atlantic and are very efficient in drawing the upper atmosphere's energy down to the height of the turbines.

Interestingly, their research found that the tremendous amount of energy generated in their models was incredibly seasonal. It highlights the considerable opportunity for generating wind power in the open ocean, particularly the North Atlantic.

While open water wind turbines are still very much in their infancy, there is hope that this research will provide strong incentives for companies to start developing the technology at a faster rate.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)
 
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