The United States has experienced an unusually violent hurricane season, with 13 named Atlantic storms in 2017 so far.
In September, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria plowed through the Caribbean and the US Gulf Coast, demolishing homes, knocking out power, flooding neighbourhoods, and displacing thousands. When there were warnings that the storms were about to hit, many residents in affected areas decided to flee or relocate to shelters.
Instead of running away from hurricanes, Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson believes scientists should work toward harnessing cyclonic energy and turning it into electricity.
In an interview with The Today Show on Sunday, he expressed his exasperation with the way Americans respond to storms.
“I’m tired of looking at photos of countless thousands of cars exiting a city, because a hurricane is coming,” Tyson told Today. “Where are the engineers and scientists saying, you know, instead of running away from the city that’s about to be destroyed by this hurricane, let me figure out a way to tap the cyclonic energy of this hurricane to drive the power needs of the city that it’s otherwise going to destroy?”
“Where are those people? You need a culture where that becomes a natural state of how people think, rather than ‘Buy toilet paper! Buy water! Run!'” he added. “That’s our current natural state, and I don’t think that was the country I grew up in.”
What deGrasse Tyson describes would be extremely challenging, and is beyond the realm of modern technology. As Gizmodo notes, while we already convert weather patterns like water and solar power into electricity, these sources do not move and can be easily controlled — unlike hurricanes.
Trapping the energy from a storm like Harvey, which moved up to 130 mph and stretched approximately 400 miles wide, would be a different story.
In 2015, the US had a peak electricity generating capacity of 1,064 gigawatts. The average tropical cyclone releases much more power than that — around 600 terawatts, with wind making up a quarter of a per cent of that, according to Smithsonian. The majority of a hurricane’s energy is stored as heat and released when water vapour turns into rain.
Some scientists are interested in capturing wind energy from hurricanes. Japanese researchers from the renewable energy firm Challenergy are working on a wind turbine that would be able to capture energy from and withstand powerful typhoons, CNN reported in 2016.
Scientists in Miami are designing screw-like turbines that would mount onto building gutters. The turbines would not only harness energy from storms, but also interrupt vortexes responsible for the majority of roof damage.
Since hurricanes often bring dangerous winds and rainfall, decreasing their intensity would make turning energy into electricity easier. But no one knows how to do this, beyond the larger-scale goal of reducing CO2 emissions that are likely making storms worse.
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