Offshore wind farms could tame hurricanes before they reach land, study says

Feb 26, 2014
Credit: ssuaphotos / Shutterstock)

For the past 24 years, Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford, has been developing a complex computer model to study air pollution, energy, weather and climate. A recent application of the model has been to simulate the development of hurricanes. Another has been to determine how much energy wind turbines can extract from global wind currents.

In light of these recent model studies and in the aftermath of hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, he said, it was natural to wonder: What would happen if a encountered a large array of offshore ? Would the energy extraction due to the storm spinning the turbines' blades slow the winds and diminish the hurricane, or would the hurricane destroy the turbines?

So he went about developing the model further and simulating what might happen if a hurricane encountered an enormous wind farm stretching many miles offshore and along the coast. Amazingly, he found that the wind turbines could disrupt a hurricane enough to reduce peak wind speeds by up to 92 mph and decrease storm surge by up to 79 percent.

The study, conducted by Jacobson, and Cristina Archer and Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware, was published online in Nature Climate Change.

The researchers simulated three hurricanes: Sandy and Isaac, which struck New York and New Orleans, respectively, in 2012; and Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.

"We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane," Jacobson said. "This feeds back to decrease wave height, which reduces movement of air toward the center of the hurricane, increasing the central pressure, which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster."

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In the case of Katrina, Jacobson's model revealed that an array of 78,000 wind turbines off the coast of New Orleans would have significantly weakened the hurricane well before it made landfall.

In the computer model, by the time Hurricane Katrina reached land, its simulated wind speeds had decreased by 36-44 meters per second (between 80 and 98 mph) and the storm surge had decreased by up to 79 percent.

For Hurricane Sandy, the model projected a wind speed reduction by 35-39 meters per second (between 78 and 87 mph) and as much as 34 percent decrease in storm surge.

Jacobson acknowledges that, in the United States, there has been political resistance to installing a few hundred , let alone tens of thousands. But he thinks there are two financial incentives that could motivate such a change.

One is the reduction of hurricane damage cost. Damage from severe hurricanes, caused by high winds and storm surge-related flooding, can run into the billions of dollars. Hurricane Sandy, for instance, caused roughly $82 billion in damage across three states.

Second, Jacobson said, the wind turbines would pay for themselves in the long term by generating normal electricity while at the same time reducing air pollution and global warming, and providing energy stability.

"The turbines will also reduce damage if a hurricane comes through," Jacobson said. "These factors, each on their own, reduce the cost to society of offshore turbines and should be sufficient to motivate their development."

An alternative plan for protecting coastal cities involves building massive seawalls. Jacobson said that while these might stop a storm surge, they wouldn't impact wind speed substantially. The cost for these, too, is significant, with estimates running between $10 billion and $40 billion per installation.

Current turbines can withstand of up to 112 mph, which is in the range of a category 2 to 3 hurricane, Jacobson said. His study suggests that the presence of massive turbine arrays will likely prevent from reaching those speeds.

Explore further: When the wind blows: New wind energy research focuses on turbine arrangement, wind seasonality

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User comments : 15

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verkle
4 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2014
Or, the turbines might end up like this
http://www.windac...fbsaCjb0

How many miles of turbines did they simulate? Is it even feasible to have this many built way offshore in the deep ocean? What are the costs associated with possible savings? Would like find out more about the tradeoffs.
Sigh
2 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2014
There would be another economic benefit: trawling would not be possible, so a large enough array would act as a marine sanctuary, increasing overall fish stocks. A large turbine array probably would kill a lot of birds, though.
SoylentGrin
4 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2014
Or, the turbines might end up like this
http://www.windac...fbsaCjb0

Wow, that website really hates wind power. I browsed around it, and checked out some editorials. It's like a windmill killed their parents or something.
Nik_2213
5 / 5 (1) Feb 26, 2014
Hang on; don't wind-farms 'feather' well below their 'maximum' speed to allow for squalls ??
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2014
I warned for a long time that windmills can significantly affect the atmosphere. I said that they function by removing energy from moving air masses and that affects how much the passing wind can do. Among other things, I was told that taking away energy in the form of electricity does not change the speed or amount of air moving. Those who said I didn't know what I was talking about and who never defended what I said only demonstrates a fact about sites like this, that most of those who comment, if not most of those who look in, are dullards, who don't know the first thing about the world, who can't think for themselves, who accept something only if they are told to believe it by someone in a white coat.
Bonia
Feb 26, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2014
It should be mentioned that solar farms are at least as dangerous, too.
Their huge shiny surfaces can prevent clouds from forming overhead, they can superheat dust particles in the air above and they can produce a massive gradient in temperature between the air above and the sky below.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (8) Feb 26, 2014
A large turbine array probably would kill a lot of birds, though.

I dunno. Do you notice a lot of birds way off shore? Birds need a place to nest. Those places are scarce out in the ocean.

Their huge shiny surfaces can prevent clouds from forming overhead,

Which is sort of beneficial for solar arrays, wouldn't you think?

I warned for a long time that windmills can significantly affect the atmosphere.

They take energy out of it - which is put back in where the energy is used in the form of heat. Net effect: zero. Can't cheat conservation of energy.

that affects how much the passing wind can do

Which might be a cool benefit for lowering soil erosion by wind. Fields used to be surrounded by trees which did EXACTLY that job by EXACTLY that method. We got rid of the trees to get larger fields (to our detriment as we got a lot of soil erosion in the bargain)
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2014
I warned for a long time that windmills can significantly affect the atmosphere
Alas youre still wrong. Note the '78,000 wind turbines' assumed. Also, hurricanes are fairly localized phenomena which are powered by drawing air inward along the water surface toward the center where it rises. This is why they quickly lose strength over land and cooler water.

Typical air masses have significant depth. Their movement is little affected by surface conditions.

"How Wind Turbines Affect Your (Very) Local Weather - Wind farms can change surface air temperatures in their vicinity

"The researchers suggest this might have impacts on the agricultural fields over which wind turbines typically tower—for instance, protecting crops from frost.

"This near-surface temperature effect is not something new to us.. Vestas works closely together with our customers to prevent this by identifying the best sites for installing wind turbines as we map multiple weather data, including temperatures."
TheGhostofOtto1923
4 / 5 (4) Feb 26, 2014
Those who said I didn't know what I was talking about
-were right.

"Hurricanes, tornadoes, whirlpools, etc. are vertical spiraling circular or elliptical columns. The outer winds can be distorted from a circle by an uneven surface area, as when part of the hurricane is over land and the other over water...

"In the eye, or chimney, the pressure drops rapidly and the temperature rises at even a steeper rate. That is the chimney or eye of the hurricane. A temperature and pressure graph is shown to the right. The low pressure chimney pulls in warm moist air from hundreds of miles around the hurricane to fuel the hurricane. The warm moist air is carried thousands of feet up the chimney where it is spewed out in cold dry air to form clouds of moisture."
http://www.keyshi...my1.html

-Hurricanes are especially sensitive to surface conditions.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (3) Feb 26, 2014
I dunno. Do you notice a lot of birds way off shore? Birds need a place to nest. Those places are scarce out in the ocean.
Observation is best left to experts. Many species migrate en masse in great flocks over the ocean, through prime wind farm locations.
http://www.encoun...inal.jpg

"a number of shorebird species that winter in South America will take a northern migratory path through Central America, the center of the United States and eventually to their summer homes in Northern Canada. In fall the birds fly southeastward, first to the Canadian Maritimes, followed by a long non-stop flight across the Western Atlantic Ocean to their wintering grounds."
http://www.birds....pathways

-Note the map showing pathways off the eastern seaboard and the gulf.
Howhot
5 / 5 (2) Feb 26, 2014
Interesting idea. Lets do it!
vlaaing peerd
5 / 5 (2) Feb 27, 2014
Or, the turbines might end up like this
http://www.windac...fbsaCjb0

Wow, that website really hates wind power. I browsed around it, and checked out some editorials. It's like a windmill killed their parents or something.


yea, that was quite ridiculous.

It's seems a new trend for anti's. We recently had a national discussion about a website that was found to be sponsored by a large oil company, called "green research", implying it was a site for environmental-friendly research, yet it only posted pro-fossil fuel biased news.

Obviously spinning the opinion with a site named "greensomething.org" works better than naming the website carbondioxidelovers.com

Anyhow, benefits of windfarming is obvious but I don't see any viability in placing 78000 windmills in front of a coastal area.

I recently found out US hired some dutch guys to work on coastal protection. Rest assured they'll build something that keeps the floods away.
ScooterG
1 / 5 (3) Feb 28, 2014
Katrina delivered a lot of much-needed precipitation to many areas in the USA.

Weakening such a storm for the benefit of a few is typical liberal thinking - it solves one problem while creating twelve others.
ViperSRT3g
not rated yet Mar 03, 2014
I fully support wind turbine farms. However with this many miles upon miles of turbines, I wonder how many hundreds, maybe even thousands of birds they might take out from mid-air collisions. I guess the trade off would be a few birds for more fish and electricity.
antialias_physorg
1 / 5 (1) Mar 03, 2014
maybe even thousands of birds they might take out from mid-air

OFF shore.

(Birds are notoriously ON shore or close to the shore)