Energy

Study shows North Atlantic wind farms could power the whole world

Study shows North Atlantic win...
A new study has found that the North Atlantic ocean has the ideal conditions for wind farms, such as the Block Island Wind Farm that opened up off the coast of Rhode Island last year
A new study has found that the North Atlantic ocean has the ideal conditions for wind farms, such as the Block Island Wind Farm that opened up off the coast of Rhode Island last year
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A new study has found that the North Atlantic ocean has the ideal conditions for wind farms, such as the Block Island Wind Farm that opened up off the coast of Rhode Island last year
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A new study has found that the North Atlantic ocean has the ideal conditions for wind farms, such as the Block Island Wind Farm that opened up off the coast of Rhode Island last year

Wind is one of the cleanest energy sources available, and the US is sitting next to a gold mine. A new study has found that wind speeds over the oceans could allow offshore turbines to generate far more energy than a land-based wind farm – with the North Atlantic, in particular, theoretically able to provide enough energy for all of human civilization.

In tapping into wind as an energy source, the US has for decades lagged behind Europe and UK, which are home to the largest offshore wind farms in the world, including the London Array and the Netherlands' Gemini wind farm. But the US is catching up: the country's first facility opened up off the coast of Rhode Island last year, and if the Trident Winds project goes ahead, it could snatch up the title of world's largest wind farm.

In addition to being safer to bird life and less disruptive to humans, the main advantage of setting up wind farms offshore is the fact that the wind speeds are higher out there. 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. Researchers from Carnegie Science set out to find the answer.

"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. "Will sticking giant wind farms out there just slow down the winds so much that it is no better than over land?"

The team used computer models to compare the output of existing land-based wind farms in Kansas to huge, theoretical facilities out in the open ocean. According to their results, turbines in the ocean wouldn't drag down the wind speeds as much as those over land would, and in some areas, they could generate three times as much electricity as their land-based counterparts.

The mechanism behind that is a result of atmospheric conditions differing over land and sea. The energy that turbines tap into starts as faster winds at higher altitudes, which are brought down towards the surface. Over land, those winds tend to stay up high, but over the ocean – and paticularly over the North Atlantic – surface warming of the seawater brings them down to within reach of the turbines.

"We found that giant ocean-based wind farms are able to tap into the energy of the winds throughout much of the atmosphere, whereas wind farms onshore remain constrained by the near-surface wind resources," says Anna Possner, co-author of the study.

As rich as the North Atlantic is for wind energy, the team also found that its productivity would vary by the season. In the summer, such a huge, theoretical offshore wind farm could be capable of powering the entire United States or Europe, but in winter, the team says there's enough energy on offer to meet the needs of the whole world.

The research was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Carnegie Science

18 comments
Bob
This article title is misleading. It would not be possible to transmit electricity from the north Atlantic all over the world. Transmission losses would be so high after just a few hundred miles that it would not be practical or economical. Just another computer simulation that leaves out the most important variables. Such a limited system would also be extremely vulnerable to storms, solar flares, and military attack.
DreadUK
Agree with Bob. Furthermore, from an article by Matt Ridley: “world energy demand has been growing at about 2 per cent a year for nearly 40 years.” “If wind turbines were to supply all of that growth but no more, how many would need to be built each year? The answer is nearly 350,000.” “At a density of, very roughly, 50 acres per megawatt, typical for wind farms, that many turbines would require a land area [half the size of] the British Isles, including Ireland. Every year. If we kept this up for 50 years, we would have covered every square mile of a land area [half] the size of Russia with wind farms. Remember, this would be just to fulfil the new demand for energy, not to displace the vast existing supply of energy from fossil fuels”. http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/wind-still-making-zero-energy/ The 'efficiency' of offshore facilities are restricted by the turbines themselves which are already at their physical peak so whilst there might be gains to be made with the consistency of the winds, no gains will be made from the turbines themselves. And to eradicate all global fossil fuel use, not just merely keep up with the 2% growth in demand for electricity, would probably mean the occupation of most of the Atlantic Ocean with wind turbines. The concept is preposterous.
Doug Elliot
Large scale wind farms modify the weather. The UK depends on reliable Atlantic flow for its temerae climate.
MartinVoelker
Powering the world is a matter of producing electricity on a terawatt scale. What this study shows is that wind has a realistic physical potential to get us into that range, which is something for which we didn't previously have sufficient data. As for doubts expressed by other commenters I suggest to read the actual study which is open access. It addresses them in detail.
Grumpyrelic
Four things come to mind: 1. What happened to the Titanic could happen to wind farms. 2. There is a reason there are so few WWII aircraft still around. They were melted down to build passenger aircraft because there was so little Aluminium. I guess we will be melting down all the Airbus & Boeings and closing the airports. 3. Maintenance is a huge problem coupled with an optimistic 20 year lifespan of these eyesores. 4. Has anyone priced copper wire lately not to mention more plastic in the ocean from insulation?
JimFox
Grumpyrelic It is in my nature to challenge misinformed opinion- 1. Aluminium- Shortage? Aluminium is abundant, 2nd most common element in Earth's crust. Quoting temporary WW2 shortage is ridiculous, as is 'melting down Boeings'. There is usually an excess of aluminium in today's world due to high demand. 2. Copper wire? Because of its light weight and electrical conductivity, aluminum wire is used for long-distance transmission of electricity. https://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2010/1256/pdf/ofr2010-1256..pdf 3. NOT the optimal performer in turbine blades, especially offshore. "The TOPSIS method, which is unique in the way of determining the preference order, presented clearer results. From the analysis we observed that if the wind turbine blades are made out of composite materials using carbon fibers, then they possess the high stiffness, low density and long fatigue life." Summary-- http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.100.5821&rep=rep1&type=pdf Jun 27, 2016 - LM 88.4P Wind Turbine Blade. Image courtesy of LM ... Glass fiber material is the primary ingredient for the blade's strength. 4. Service life-- "prove it can withstand 25 years of operation offshore". -- https://www.lmwindpower.com/en/products-and-services/blade-types/longest-blade-in-the-world 5. Maintenance-- Let's combine all costs- design, manufacture, transport & installation, operation, depreciation, etc, etc. NOT just 'maintenance' -- "Wind power is cost-effective. It is one of the lowest-cost renewable energy technologies available today, with power prices offered by newly built wind farms averaging 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on the wind resource and the particular project's financing." https://www.google.co.th/search?q=wind+turbine+maintenance+cost&oq=wind+turbine+maintenance&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j0l5.16481j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 So your opinion is worthless, the ranting of someone who thinks turbines "eyesores", presumably compared to a coal-fired obscenity belching ash & water vapor from its beautiful cooling towers? Or a production oilfield? My statements are supported by EVIDENCE, not mere opinion.
Lardo
Surface warming of the seawater? You mean like from climate change? So does that mean that global warming is a good thing, now?
Douglas Bennett Rogers
If these become an economic asset they could support pelagic communities by exporting hydrogen and oxygen.
watersworm
And no problem to find the "necessary" quantity of rare earth ? And no problem of corrosion ? And, good news, the SUN could provide us much more lectricity...IF electricity storage DO exist, in good robust and economic terms...
PB
The capital cost of erecting and maintaining wind farms as well as having to erect and maintain conventional energy power plants is uneconomic. While wind sounds cheap, the maintenance is high due to ocean salt corrosion and birds damaging blades. Australia has gone through the ultra-green cycle and is paying the price big time right now. Australia produces just 1% of the world's carbon which is less than China's 2% annual INCREASE in carbon production. Australia has determined that coal powered energy is 30% less than wind, mainly due to the cost of maintaining conventional power plants to be used when the wind stops blowing. Are the power plants going to tell people "Sorry, no wind today so no electricity". That's what South Australia has had to do. Look beyond the immediate appeal of wind and solar to the economics of total systems, and relate that back to total energy cost, what that cost contributes to the cost of industrial production, and the resultant competitiveness of American goods versus countries that don't care about carbon. It doesn't do us much good if energy is so expensive that factories go to Mexico to enjoy lower costs.