A ground-breaking study published in the journal Nature Climate Change claims that, huge offshore wind turbines have the power to weaken hurricanes, wave heights and reduce storm surge.
The study led by Stanford University engineer Mark Jacobson, who has been building a weather and pollution model for the last 24 years, says today's wind turbines could significantly withstand winds up to 112 miles per hour, diminishing a storm's peak wind speeds by up to 92 miles an hour. The result would be a hurricane heavily suppressed prior to land fall, saving lives and billions of dollars in damages.
Wind turbines have been in use for some time now as a renewable power source all over the globe. This alternative source of energy is sought after for their pollution-free electricity and to lessen society’s carbon footprint. Now wind turbines may provide another added benefit, storm protection. Coastal cities use sea walls to safeguard themselves from storm surges; however by using wind turbines not only will they be better shielded but also get pollution-free electricity.
The scientists modelled three different hurricanes—Isaac, Katrina, and Sandy to compare the wind speed and storm surge without the presence of a large wind turbine farm stretching many miles offshore and along the coast in the path of the hurricanes. Amazingly, they found that the wind speeds dropped by up to 90 miles an hour, which is enough to drop the most deadly storms out of the hurricane category. The vast fields of turbines were so ingenious that the wind speed began to abate even before it reached the turbines, meaning that in most cases, they could still continue producing energy throughout the storm.
The wind speed reduction was 87 miles per hour for Hurricane Sandy and 92 miles per hour for Hurricane Katrina. Storm surge damage was decreased by 79 percent for Hurricane Katrina and nearly 34 percent for Hurricane Sandy.
The researchers compared the financial practicality of using large wind turbines. Even though building sea walls would be less expensive, they would not reduce wind damage, would not generate electricity and would not avoid other additional costs. Thus the net cost of offshore wind farm would be lower than the net cost of producing electricity with fossil fuels.
The current wind turbine technology lets turbines to close down to defend themselves from extremely powerful wind; hence the potential cost of replacing wind turbines due to hurricane damage is almost minimal.
At present the United States has two large offshore wind farms, the Deepwater Wind Energy Center located in New England and the Baryonyx Rio Grande farm in Texas, each of the farms having only about 200 turbines. More such farms are under construction, mainly off the East coast and Texas shorelines where huge numbers of hurricanes develop. Most of the world’s offshore turbines are situated in Europe with also China raising its capacity.