Massive offshore wind turbines could not only generate electricity but also weaken hurricanes before the damaging storms make landfall.
Research by the University of Delaware and Stanford University shows that an army of offshore wind turbines could reduce hurricanes’ wind speeds, wave heights and flood-causing storm surge.
The findings, published online in the journal Nature Climate Change, show that wind turbines can buffer damage to coastal cities.
“The little turbines can fight back the beast,” said study co-author Cristina Archer, associate professor in the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment.
Archer and Stanford’s Mark Jacobson previously calculated the global potential for wind power, taking into account that as turbines are generating electricity, they are also siphoning off some energy from the atmosphere.
And they found there is more than enough wind to support worldwide energy demands with a negligible effect on the overall climate.
In the new study, the researchers look closer at how the turbines’ wind extraction might affect hurricanes.
Unlike normal weather patterns that make up global climate over the long term, hurricanes are unusual events that behave very differently.
Using a climate-weather model, the researchers simulated hurricanes Katrina, Isaac and Sandy to examine what would happen if large wind farms, with tens of thousands of turbines, had been in the storms’ paths.
They found that, as the hurricane approached, the wind farm would remove energy from the storm’s edge and slow the winds.
The lower wind speeds at the hurricane’s perimeter would gradually trickle inwards toward the eye of the storm.
According to the computer model, the reduced winds would in turn lower the height of ocean waves, reducing winds which push water toward the coast as storm surge.
The wind farm decreased storm surge, a key cause of hurricane flooding, by up to 34% for Hurricane Sandy and 79% for Hurricane Katrina.
The net cost of offshore wind farms was found to be less than the net cost of generating electricity with fossil fuels.
The calculations take into account savings from avoiding costs related to health issues, climate change and hurricane damage, and assume a mature offshore wind industry.
In initial costs, it would be less expensive to build seawalls but those would not reduce wind damage and would not produce electricity.
The study used very large wind farms, with tens of thousands of turbines, much larger than commercial wind farms today.
However, sensitivity tests suggested benefits even for smaller numbers of turbines.
The paper, titled “Taming Hurricanes with Arrays of Offshore Wind Turbines,” will be published in print in the March Nature Climate Change.
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