News / Science & Technology

Study: Off-shore Wind Farms Tame Hurricanes

(FILE) Offshore windmills in the North Sea near the village of Blavandshuk near Esbjerg, Denmark.
(FILE) Offshore windmills in the North Sea near the village of Blavandshuk near Esbjerg, Denmark.
Rosanne Skirble
Wind energy is one of the fastest growing sources of new electricity around the world. In 2012, global wind energy capacity grew by 19 percent, with more than 150,000 turbines operating in 90 countries.

Now a new study suggests offshore turbines could have an additional environmental benefit: weakening the power of hurricanes.

Over several decades, Stanford University's Mark Jacobson has developed a complex computer model to study air pollution, energy, weather and climate. The engineering professor recently used it to address a nagging question facing the renewable energy industry: could hurricane force winds destroy offshore windmills?

“The first thought I had was, well maybe the turbines would extract enough power from the hurricane to diminish the hurricane, but I couldn’t prove that yet, unless I ran some numerical simulations,” he said.

Off-shore Wind Farms Can Tame Hurricanes
Off-shore Wind Farms Can Tame Hurricanesi
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So, Jacobson, co-author of the study in Nature Climate Change, ran the numbers on three of the most powerful hurricanes to hit the U.S. East and Gulf coasts in recent years. The model simulated what would happen if large wind farms with tens of thousands of turbines had been in the path of those storms.

“We found that the hurricanes would be dissipated quite a bit if you have large arrays of offshore wind turbines," Jacobson said. "The storm surge could be reduced by up to 79 percent and wind speeds by 50 percent or even more.”

The resulting milder winds would also prevent damage to the turbines. Jacobson explains that as the hurricane approaches, the spinning blades remove energy from the storm’s edge and slow down the wind behind it. That slowdown in turn would lower wave height and reduce the winds that push those waves toward the coast.

“So by the time the hurricane gets to shore, it’s significantly weakened," he said. "And storm surge is due to winds going long distance over the water, and the storm surge is reduced quite a bit as well," Jacobsen said. "So [there are] these two benefits, reduced wind and reduced storm surge, due to the large arrays of offshore turbines.”

New research shows that an offshore wind farm could have weakened Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, which devastated New Orleans.New research shows that an offshore wind farm could have weakened Hurricane Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, which devastated New Orleans.

Storm surge leads to flooding and death, says University of Delaware professor Cristina Archer, a co-author of the study. She says barrier walls or islands buffer storm surge, but, the study shows turbines can also play a role.

“We thought we could actually act on the wind, which is the driving force of the storm surge," she said. "So by reducing the wind, you are actually reducing the storm surge dramatically.”
Archer suggests locating wind farms in offshore hot spots where they could tap the wind for electricity, offsetting fossil fuel use and its resulting emissions and pollution. They could also act as insurance against storm damage, as the study simulations demonstrate.

“If you can be smart about it, then you can have still very, very high benefits and locally. So, for example, for [Hurricane] Katrina, we placed the turbines just up wind of New Orleans," she said. "And, so we protected New Orleans by taking action in New Orleans. So [we showed that] local actions had actual local benefits.”

That 2005 hurricane on the Gulf Coast was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, with a death toll in the thousands.

The study suggests that while there has been political and social resistance in the United States to installing even a few hundred offshore wind turbines, let alone tens of thousands, a wind farm would pay for itself in the long term by generating power and helping to reduce hurricane damage.

Archer sees partnerships developing among policy makers, emergency managers and the wind industry that could lead to new strategies for coastal power and protection that can also save lives.

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Comment Sorting
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
March 03, 2014 7:16 AM
We should notice that this article just shows the result of a simulation study indicating the possible benefits of off-shore turbine arrays both to reduce hurricares damage and probably to promote the shift from fossile energy to environmentary clean energy usage. It is well known that the result of simulation study could differ so much depending on the kinds of imput factors and numbers. I would like to take this article as what intends to show the possible capability of wind turbine as well as mankind contributing to alter natural disasters to human benefits.

by: Walter
March 03, 2014 6:08 AM
Alternative titles for this article:
"Global warming professor and wind farm investor claims turbines reduce hurricanes", "Wind turbines, expensive, inefficient and unreliable for energy production now being touted for hurricane damping"

by: goldminor from: USA
March 02, 2014 9:50 AM
Over at WUWT, where I have participated in the conversation about catastrophic global warming, everyone had a good laugh over this recent news story. Hopefully, if they ever do a small experiment, they will keep the wind turbines far away from any inhabited locale. If you were to read elsewhere about the working dynamics of these turbines, then you would find that they are built to shut down operation above a certain wind speed. This is part of the reason why wind turbines only produce a small percentage of their rated output on a yearly basis. So if these were to sit in the path of a hurricane the results would likely be severe to the point of destruction of the turbine, with many pieces flying far away never to be seen again. Over in Europe and the UK, where the bulk of the larger installations have been built, they are built with a large zone of free space surrounding them to reduce the risk of causalities when a catastrophic failure occurs. The blades can be flung quite far. Besides the fact that these machines are killing all types of birds plus bats at a high rate, the yield off of turbines is not good, as many investors have found out. In the UK, the public bears the brunt of the monetary losses, as the investor has been guaranteed a % return no matter what the power yield is. Talk about an unfair setup!

by: Ben Acheson from: Europe
March 01, 2014 6:24 AM
This seems a bit far-fetched. How much would the maintenance of the turbines cost? And what if the turbines damage undersea resources such as blue carbon stores? All these issues need raised.

This video talks about them - it is called 'Wind Energy: Chalk it up as a loss?'

by: Maeda Atsukoh from: AKB, Tokyo
February 28, 2014 8:31 PM
The array of offshore wind tubines might be able to reduce wind around the site same as barrier walls onshore, but I don't think that these turbines can reduce the power or energy of hurricanes, so hurricanes can keep thier strength when they come to onshore.

We should not expect too much to offshore wind tubines as described in this VOA article.
In Response

by: Umeda Ayakah from: AKB&NMB
March 04, 2014 10:00 AM
Low pressure is the source of hurricaines. Wind is the result of low pressure.
How can these wind turbines change the low pressure?
In Response

by: Yoshi from: Sappor
March 03, 2014 7:19 AM
It would be more assertive if you kindly explain why you do not think these turbines can reduce the power of hurricaines.

by: Rob Swift from: Great Britain
February 28, 2014 5:08 PM
Off the east coast of Britain 41 wind turbines went off vertical and became unusable. Many more are tilting and that is because seabeds always move.The cost of servicing them is prohibitive. Contractors are wasting a thousand tons of fuel oil a day just to go in and out to service them. Also they have ships acting as offshore hotels. Because the bearings can take damage unless the rotors keep turning, they need a conventional power station to keep them going when there is no wind. When the wind is too light or too strong they cannot be used. Wind strength does not always match peak electric demand so you need a conventional power station for times of peak demand.
As well as having been an environmental disaster they are an eyesore and have completely destroyed the beauty of the Eastern seabord.

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