Ocean wind turbines could generate immense amounts of energy, study reports

A new report reveals that wind turbines on the open ocean have the potential to create much more energy than the ones on land.
By Joseph Scalise | Oct 11, 2017
Researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science discovered that generating wind power over the open ocean could help create enough natural energy to power the world, according to recent research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Wind speeds tend to be higher over the ocean than they are over land. In fact, past studies have shown that wind turbines built on open water could theoretically intercept more than five times as much energy as ones constructed on land. While that could potentially generate large amounts of renewable energy, researchers are not sure yet sure if faster ocean winds could be converted into increased amounts of electricity.

"Are the winds so fast just because there is nothing out there to slow them down? Will sticking giant wind farms out there just slow down the winds so much that it is no better than over land?" asked study co-author Ken Caldeira, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science, according to Science Daily.

Most energy captured by wind farms begins high in the atmosphere. From there, it then moves down to the Earth's surface where it is captured by turbines. Previous studies have looked at this process and found that there is a maximum rate of electrical generation for land-based wind farms. In addition, the maximum rate of energy extraction is also limited by the rate at which energy is moved down by fast winds.

The team in the new study followed up on such studies by seeing if the atmosphere over the ocean is able to move more energy downward than atmosphere over land. To do that, researchers used sophisticated modeling tools to compare the productivity of large Kansas wind farms to massive, theoretical open-ocean wind farms. They found that in some areas ocean-based wind farms could generate at least three times more power than the ones on land.

This was particularly true in the North Atlantic, where the drag introduced by aquatic turbines would not slow down winds as much as they would on land. That is because during different seasons large amounts of heat pour out of the North Atlantic Ocean and into the overlying atmosphere. The contrast in surface warming then creates low-pressure systems that pull energy from the upper atmosphere and push it into the turbines.

While these findings could be good news, the power behind aquatic turbines is seasonal. For example, though North Atlantic wind farms could provide enough energy to power all of civilization during the winter, they could barely cover half of Europe during the summer months. As a result, more information needs to be gathered about the technology before any real steps can be taken.

Even so, many companies are interested in the idea of moving into the open ocean. Some have already looked at the possibility oflarge floating wind farms, and more will likely join the industry as time moves forward.

"The things that we're describing are likely not going to be economic today, but once you have an industry that's starting in that direction, should provide incentive for that industry to develop," said Caldeira, according to The Washington Post.

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