Open Ocean Presents Considerable Opportunity For Offshore Wind Energy Generation

Ebony Scott
October 12, 2017

According to new research from Carnegie's Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira, there is huge energy potential for some ocean-based wind farms. Land-based turbines themselves slow the air reducing the amount of energy subsequent rows of turbines can generate.

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". The scientists also note that storms over the mid-latitude oceans regularly transfer wind energy down to the surface from high altitudes making a much higher upper limit on how much energy wind turbines can capture than on land.

In theory, those speeds mean there's five times as much energy blowing around over water than there is over land, but whether that would translate to electricity production gains was another question.

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Wind speeds on the ocean can be as much as 70% higher than on land.

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. The authors point to other research which has concluded that the maximum rate of electricity generation for land-based wind farms is limited by the rate at which the energy is moved down towards the ground from high up in the atmosphere. This is largely due to the fact that large amounts of heat pour out of the North Atlantic Ocean and into the overlying atmosphere, especially during the winter. By GCR staff0 CommentsA wind farm in the middle of the North Atlantic would be five times as efficient as one onshore and could provide limitless low-priced energy, says a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"While no commercial-scale deep water wind farms yet exist, our results suggest that such technologies, if they became technically and economically feasible, could potentially provide civilization-scale power", say the researchers.
This contrast in surface warming along the US 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. It highlights the considerable opportunity for generating wind power in the open ocean, particularly the North Atlantic.

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