Offshore Wind Farms Could Control Hurricanes

offshore wind farmsIn a ground-breaking study a research team has found that huge offshore wind farms have the power to tame hurricanes. The study says that a farm consisting of tens of thousands of turbines can lower the overall speed of a hurricane up to 92 mph and reduce the surge of the storm up to 79 percent.

Wind farms have been in use for some time now as an alternative power source all over the globe. They are sought after for their pollution-free electricity and now they can add one more benefit to the list, storm protection. Currently, coastal cities use sea walls to protect themselves from storm surges, however, by using turbines not only will they get better protection but also a cleaner source of power.

Currently, the United States does not have any offshore wind farms operational; however, 11 such farms are under construction, mainly off the East coast and Texas shorelines where a large number of hurricanes develop. The majority of the world’s offshore turbines are located in Europe however; China is raising its capacity.

Mark Jacobson, an engineering professor from Stanford University, is the man behind this study which is published in Nature Climate Change. This study is the first to observe how hurricanes interact with wind turbines. Jacobson said the finds where “surprising” but that they make sense.  Jacobson and his team used complex computer modeling to see just how the impact of a large turbine farm would have on three major hurricanes: Issac, Sandy and Katrina.

A wind farm consisting of 78,000 turbines, each one 50 feet tall, placed off the coast of New Orleans would have slowed Katrina’s overall wind speed to 78 mph and reduced its storm surge up to 79 percent. An even larger wind farm off the East Coast would have reduced Sandy’s overall wind speed to 87 mph and reduced its storm surge by 34 percent.

Jacobson also says that smaller offshore wind farms can reduce a hurricane’s wrath, albeit, at a lesser rate. The bottom line; wind turbine farms cost must less than sea walls when it comes to protecting a city when you factor in that they also generate electricity.

Mark Powell, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) called the study “potentially significant.” Stephen Rose, an expert on wind energy, called the idea “neat” but too expensive and that its “borderline feasible.”

Rose held a study in 2012 that claimed hurricanes could destroy some of the turbines. However, him and his team later released a correction to the study saying there was only a 7 percent chance of a hurricane destroying at least half of the turbines off the Texas coast and almost no chance of damage on the East Coast.

So far, in the United States, the two largest offshore wind farms are the Deepwater Wind Energy Center located in New England and the Baryonyx Rio Grande farm located in Texas. Both of these farms will each have only about 200 turbines.

Jacobson claims that large offshore wind farms will prove to be a cost-effective way to generate the country’s power supply versus fossil fuels, given the added benefit of being able to reduce not only pollution but hurricane damage as well. He also said that current turbines can withstand wind speeds of up to 112 mph and that a large enough farm could slow the wind down enough to prevent damage from a more powerful storm.

By Adam Stier

Sources:

USA Today
Scientific American
Stanford News

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