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How Mid-Ocean Wind Farms Could Power The Whole Of Civilisation

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With more turbines added to a wind farm, the combined drag of turning blades puts a cap on the amount of energy from the moving air that can be converted to electric power.

Researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science have discovered something rather remarkable about wind farms - we've apparently been doing it wrong.

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

Still, there's an overarching message in the study: Open oceans boast a huge potential for providing the world with an alternative energy source, and while covering all of Earth's oceans with wind turbines is remarkably impossible, it's still promising.

It was found that in some areas ocean-based windfarms could generate at least three times more power than the land-based facilities. This limit occurs, because on land many natural and human structures are present which creates friction and this eventually slows down the wind speed.

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Possner and Caldeira used a range of modelling tools to compare the productivity of large windfarms in Kansas, in comparison to the upscaled, theoretical open-ocean windfarms. "In the summer such wind farms could merely generate enough power to cover the electricity demand of Europe, or possibly the United States alone".

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.

"The real question is", Caldeira said, "can the atmosphere over the ocean move more energy downward than the atmosphere over land is able to?" This is largely due to the fact that large amounts of heat pour out of the North Atlantic Ocean and into the overlying atmosphere, especially during the winter. It suggests that floating wind farms and other similar ocean-based setups could be the next innovation in wind energy.

However, this tremendous wind power is very seasonal. It highlights the considerable opportunity for generating wind power in the open ocean, particularly the North Atlantic. 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.

"Wind speeds over open ocean areas are often higher than those in the windiest areas over land, which has motivated a quest to develop technologies that could harvest wind energy in deep water environments".

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