New study highlights big offshore wind opportunities in North Atlantic

Open-ocean wind farms | EurekAlert! Science News

New study highlights big offshore wind opportunities in North Atlantic

The report said: "In the winter, North Atlantic wind farms could provide sufficient energy to meet all of civilization's current needs". In doing so, they established that the speed of the wind over the open ocean is some 70 percent higher than that on land.

"Are the winds so fast just because there is nothing out there to slow them down?" asks Ken Caldeira, co-author of the new study.

Most of the energy captured by large wind farms originates higher up in the atmosphere and is transported down to the surface where the turbines may extract this energy.

Another big catch for wind power over large swaths of the ocean is that we would need to learn how to maintain and install the turbines in extreme ocean environments.

The study by the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University in California has calculated a wind farm spanning three million square kilometres - roughly the size of India - and based in the North Atlantic ocean could generate "civilisation scale power". 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".

Possner and Caldeira used a range of modelling tools to compare the productivity of large windfarms in Kansas, in comparison to the upscaled, theoretical open-ocean windfarms.

Till date, the wind energy is obtained through wind turbines which convert the kinetic energy of the wind into mechanical power, and then the generator converts this mechanical power to electrical.

In the search for alternative energies, wind turbines have presented as a possible replacement for fossil fuels.

"The real question is", Caldeira continued, "can the atmosphere over the ocean move more energy downward than the atmosphere over land is able to?" 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.

"Despite the strong seasonally varying geophysical limit imposed by the atmosphere, we still find that even the smallest wind farm considered in this study would generate sufficient electric power to meet the demand of the European Union in 2015 for 10 out of 12 months of the year", the paper says. It suggests that floating wind farms and other similar ocean-based setups could be the next innovation in wind energy. Many practical factors will probably make the whole concept more complex, including the lack of technology that can capture ocean-based wind energy at that scale. What they found is that certain parts of the open ocean provide "considerably higher power generation rates".

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