Open-ocean wind farms

MARIE HEUCLIN via Getty Images

MARIE HEUCLIN via Getty Images

In recent years, a growing body of research argues that the rate of generated power is limited to around 1.5 W m within large wind farms.

Stanford's Carnegie Institution for Science Department of Global Ecology researchers are behind this new theoretical study.

But extracting efficient energy from wind involves more than putting turbines in the path of gale-force winds.

Wind turbines continuously remove kinetic energy from the lower troposphere, thereby reducing the wind speed near hub height.

In tapping into wind as an energy source, the USA has for decades lagged behind Europe and United Kingdom, which are home to the largest offshore wind farms in the world, including the London Array and the Netherlands' Gemini wind farm.

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The results reveal that in some areas ocean wind farms could generate three times as much energy as their land-based counterparts.

Open ocean sites thousands of kilometres from Europe or North America could hit far higher efficiency than equivalent land installations thanks to strong marine winds and optimal spacing, said the team from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC.

Which raises the question, would wind farms over the ocean suffer these same constraints or would the atmosphere be able to move more energy downward over the ocean? 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. This is largely due to the fact that large amounts of heat pouring out of the North Atlantic Ocean and into the overlying atmosphere, especially during the winter.

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. 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. 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. 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. However, in this study, we show that considerably higher power generation rates may be sustainable over some open ocean areas.

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