A large arrangement of wind turbines off shore may help to protect coastal areas that are in danger from hurricanes. The journal, Nature Climate Change, discovered that sizeable turbine arrays (they must produce at the very minimum, 300 gigawatts of electricity) can greatly lower a hurricane’s surface winds as well as fatal storm surges.
Researchers at Stanford University and the University of Delaware, found that offshore wind turbines could have reduced Hurricane Katrina’s wind speeds up to 79 mph downwind from the turbines. Also, it could have decreased the storm surge up to 80%. However, the benefits would only be felt if the turbines were placed in the storm’s path. Not necessarily going to happen!
A complex and revolutionary computer model estimated the 3D hurricanes’ interactions with the ocean surface and the wind turbines (ones that reached over 300 ft in height). It was realised that hurricanes transferred some of its kinetic energy to the turbines. This would set off a chain reaction resulting in a weaker storm.
Cristina Archer, a co-author of the study, said, “The hurricanes themselves were weakened, their winds were weaker, their pressure was higher with turbines than without.”
The benefits? Lower wind speeds would decrease wave heights; smaller waves lowers friction at the surface. As a result, the path of the air going towards the centre of the hurricane, would be altered. Rather than moving towards the eye of the storm, air would rush around it. This would, in turn, increase the central air pressure thus a less intense hurricane.
The biggest problem with the study is that no energy company is planning to build offshore wind turbine arrays at the scope that is required, stated Mark Jacobson, co-author of the study. In fact, many people don’t support them and have the “not in my backyard” mentality. The ‘super’ arrays would involve up to 400,000 turbines. “That is really a social, economic, and political question,” Jacobson replied.
Jacobson is under the impression that wind turbines are easier than weather modification ideas. “This doesn’t require going out and trying to spread something over the entire hurricane, it just requires the turbines to be in a specific location near a city,” says Jacobson.
The primary function of the turbines are not to alter the intensity of storms but rather to provide affordable energy. The reduction in hurricane strength is simply a secondary benefit. The study states that once hurricane-related benefits are considered, offshore wind energy installations would be even more affordable when compared to fossil fuel plants on land.
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[Image via geology]