Medicine

Open-sea wind farms could power humanity, but there's a catch

Open-sea wind farms could power humanity, but there's a catch

This is the result of a chain of cause and effect originated by the thermal energy contained in the seawater that Atlantic currents transport north during the winter.

"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", said Dr Possner.

As expected, the results showed a significant gap between land-based and sea-based wind energy.

Scientists have been wondering just how much power a wind turbine located far offshore could actually produce.

On average, wind speeds are higher over ocean than over land.

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Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, doctors Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira concluded: "On an annual mean basis, the wind power available in the North Atlantic could be sufficient to power the world".

Considering wind power is very seasonal, the researchers note that in the summer, these wind farms could generate only enough power to cover the electricity demand of just Europe, or possibly the U.S. At onshore facilities, each turbine weakens the power generation potential of each additional turbine downwind of it in a phenomenon known as a "wind shadow".

The collaborators used a climate model to compare the output of a real-life Kansas-based wind farm with a same-size theoretical one, which is located on the North Atlantic ocean. Land or close-to-shore farms merely "scrape" energy from the lowest level of the atmosphere, said Caldeira; open ocean installations could "tap into the kinetic energy reservoir of the entire overlying troposphere", he claimed.

In the search for alternative energies, wind turbines have presented as a possible replacement for fossil fuels. 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.

The two conducted research on the efficiency of wind turbines on land as well as the wind out at sea to determine that during the winter months in the North Atlantic region the winds at sea might be strong enough to power civilization. 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.


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