Scientists from the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University have found that wind turbines placed in the open ocean could generate up to five times more electricity than those on land.
Researchers Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira used computer modelling tools to compare the productivity of large land-based wind farms in Kansas to theoretical deep water wind farms. They discovered that the drag introduced by wind turbines would not slow down winds as much as they would on land, especially in the North Atlantic.
This is because a large amount of heat pours out of the North Atlantic and into the atmosphere, particularly during the winter. The majority of the energy captured by large wind farms originates high in the atmosphere and is transported down to the surface where it is extracted by turbines.
“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,” says Possner.
In theory, North Atlantic wind farms could meet the entire world’s energy demand during the colder months. Energy production from such wind farms would decline in the summer, though they could still generate enough power to supply the US or Europe.
Deep water wind technologies are not yet fully developed. ‘Floating’ wind turbines — which are mounted on floating structures rather than being drilled into the seabed — will likely play a key role in harvesting energy on the open ocean.
Norway’s Statoil launched the world’s first full-scale floating wind farm, made up of five turbines, off the coast of Peterhead, Scotland in July.