Huge Offshore Wind Network Could Solve the Calm-Day Problem

By Smriti Rao | April 6, 2010 2:33 pm

windmill-turbine-2

When it comes to generating clean energy, the strong offshore winds that blow in from the ocean are a great source. But while these sea breezes are often stronger than land winds, they’re not consistent; instead their force tends to ebb and flow like the tides. Wind turbines that use offshore winds to produce energy can therefore have a tough time maintaining a steady supply of power, but now scientists from the University of Delaware have proposed a novel idea on how to keep the power supply steady.

In a new paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Willet Kempton and his team suggest that by connecting offshore wind farms in a long network running along the entire Eastern Seaboard, power fluctuations could be cut down, as electricity from interconnected farms would be easier to manage and more valuable than from wind at a single location [BusinessWeek]. The researchers suggest that by creating a 1,550-mile-long network of wind turbines, the network could provide power from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

Kempton says linking the turbines would also help eliminate the possibility of a complete power outage should wind speeds drop in any one location. If the wind drops in North Carolina, say, power could be rerouted from somewhere else in the network where the winds are blowing strongly, scientists explain. The concept is simple: If you spread out wind stations far enough, each one will experience a different weather pattern. So it’s very unlikely that a slackening of the wind would affect all stations at once. The result is steadier power [Wired.com].

Kempton’s team proposed the idea after studying five years of offshore wind data from Florida to Maine. Simulating a series of underwater transmission cables that stretched about 1,550 miles and connected 11 stations, which they called the “Atlantic transmission grid,” scientists found that although individual stations showed erratic power supplies, the aggregate power output changed very little. Not once during the five year period studied did the overall power output drop to zero. “We took an intermittent resource and made it not intermittent anymore,” Kempton said [Wired.com].

Though the United States is the world’s largest producer of wind power, no commercial offshore wind farms are up and running yet here; Kempton’s research may provide support for the various offshore wind projects in the planning stages along the Atlantic coast. Mark Jacobson, a civil and environmental engineer at Standford University comments: “The technology’s there, the materials are there, we have the willpower to reduce carbon emissions, we have a reliable power supply that doesn’t lead to fuel shortage…. The next step is really to start implementing this on a large scale” [Wired.com]. However, installing cables like those Kempton used in his study to hypothetically connect the different turbines could cost as much as $1.4 billion.

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology
  • gepinniw

    “…installing cables like those Kempton used in his study to hypothetically connect the different turbines could cost as much as $1.4 billion.”
    Big deal. The Chinese are spending nearly 1 trillion on new railroads, not to mention a myriad of other infrastructure projects. When did we North Americans become so stupid? We need nation-building projects like this.
    Bottom line – we have the resources – all we lack is the imagination!

  • scott

    I bet someone would cough up the billions to build new oil platforms, refineries, etc all up down the coast. Pros and cons to all energy sources, but I say go with the wind. Some think they are ugly…but not as ugly as the platforms…drive along the Santa Barbara coast on a clear day, all the platforms are really ugly and spoil the view.

  • m

    what the picture doesnt show is all the dead birds.

    they have these in Kingston, Ontario….birds by the hundreds washing up on the shores.

  • humble reader

    “When did we North Americans become so stupid?”
    at least in the land of milk and honey,
    when everything here was privatized under ‘the great communicator’s’
    trickle-down economic plans. windfall profits for the party in power, but
    no further investment in infrastructure by the companies that bought
    in since then. only lots of flashy marketing ending with crap like enron…
    now when the wind blows, power lines fall and regions like the northeast
    go into black out.

  • ChH

    They should have offshore wind turbines with a water tank in the nacell instead of a generator. The turbine turns a shaft which runs down to a submerged positive-displacement pump (PDP) to lift water into the tank. Off the same stand pipe near the bottom, have a hydroelectric generator.
    This solves many problems:
    1. If the wind dies, you can still generate power for several hours (depending on tank size & hydroelectric generator throttling).
    2. PDP’s have a wide range of efficient speeds. The turbines can be optimized to extract all available wind power without the limitations currently placed on them by the generator.
    3. Grid operators know exactly how much energy is available for future power generation even if the wind were to stop dead – just measure how much water is in the tank.
    4. A hyrdoelectric generator is a more simple device than the generators currently used in turbine nacells. Separating the turbine speed from the generator speed means no expensive, less reliable & electrically noisy solid-state inverters are required.

  • scott

    m – Sorry about the birds..but how many birds have been killed in oil spills? From eating plastic trash strwn about? Or from flying into lighted infrastructure – buildings, etc. We have to have some form of energy…..I’m not ready to do dark and light candles or not have a blender or cell phone. If you could ask a bird which it prefers, I think it would take its chances with the wind turbines.

  • m

    scott – that’s like saying car accidents kill people, so i will drive a truck.

  • http://donothaveone harold black

    THIS IDEA MAKES MORE SENSE THAN MANY OF THE PROFFERED ALTERNATIVE ENERGY SOURCES:

    WE ARE RUNNING OUT OF OIL AND ALSO HAVE TO SIMULTANEOUSLY DEAL WITH GLOBAL WARMING CAUSED BY BURNING OF FOSSIL FUELS. THIS SYSTEM ADDRESSES BOTH OF THESE ISSUES.

    WE SHOULD LOOK AT ANOTHER 5YRS OF OFF-SHORE WIND DATA AND IF THE FINDINGS ARE SUBSTANTIATED THEN TAKE THE OBVIOUS NEXT STEP.

    MY CONGRATS TO THE PEOPLE AT THE U. OF DE. WHO DID THIS.

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