Scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University, California, estimated that a deep-sea wind farm in the North Atlantic ocean could power the entire planet. The new study shows that a wind energy facility with floating turbines would have to be the size of India and could generate 18 terawatts of power per year, which is four times more energy compared to wind farms on land.

The researchers used a climate model to conduct virtual experiments.

The massive engineering project would spread across three million square kilometers. Published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research says that air currents are on average 70 percent higher over the ocean than over the land.

Since wave heights exceed three meters (9.8ft), a massive wind farm located in the North Atlantic would have to operate in really harsh conditions. The project would also face several political and economic challenges.

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One of Siemens’ offshore wind farms. Image credit: Siemens

The more turbines added to a wind farm on the land, the stronger the effect of turbine drag. It happens when the combined drag from the turbines’ blades puts a cap that covers the amount of energy that can turn into electricity, which limits electricity generation to 1.5 watts per square meter compared with six watts that could be generated in the North Atlantic. This phenomenon is known as “wind shadow.”

The U.S. researchers wanted to know if floating turbines in the open ocean would also present the same issue. They chose the North Atlantic because its winds provide a giant reservoir of energy given that heat pours into the Earth’s atmosphere from the ocean surface. This results in more power being transported and it helps overcome the turbine drag effect.

“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 study author and atmospheric scientists Anna Possner, as quoted by the Daily Mail.

Nevertheless, power generation from a massive, deep-ocean wind farm would not be the same throughout the year. During the summer, the output would decline to a fifth of the annual average, but it would still produce enough electricity to meet energy needs of the entire European continent.

Tough challenges

Charlie Zender, a physicist at the University of California who wasn’t involved with the study, considered the paper a “masterful” analysis of the wind energy-related processes, according to Science Magazine.

However, he says the idea is unlikely to have a significant influence on energy policies in the near future due to the extremely high construction and operating costs such projects implicate.

Nothing like this has ever been built before, and it would require international cooperation in addition to vast amounts of investments. The paper concluded that technical and economic feasibility could allow a large-scale project to provide electricity to meet the current demands of humanity.

Source: Daily Mail