ADVERTISEMENT
  About the SA Blog Network













Observations

Observations


Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American
Observations HomeAboutContact

String of offshore turbines along East Coast could provide steady supply of wind power


Email   PrintPrint



offshore-wind-turbinesThe problem with generating electricity by harnessing the wind is that it doesn’t always blow (though it may seem that way at times). And, typically, consumers remain intolerant of power interruptions.

But there may be a way to ensure a steady supply of wind, according to a new study in the April 5 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The key? Sea breezes (and a lot of expensive wiring).

Willett Kempton, director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration, and his colleagues analyzed wind patterns from 11 sites on the U.S. East Coast, along the 2,500 kilometers from Maine to Florida. By wiring together hypothetical offshore wind turbines along this coastline, the researchers found that they could guarantee a steady supply of electricity. In fact, according to their model, there would never be a time when the wind wasn’t producing some electricity—and previous research by Kempton has shown that offshore wind power alone could supply the needs of coastal states.

Of course, no offshore wind turbines exist anywhere off the U.S. East Coast—and reactions from coastal residents have been as mercurial as the wind, depending on whether one resides in Cape Cod or Cape Hatteras—so this exercise remains entirely theoretical. As it stands, the roughly 2 gigawatts of offshore wind turbines proposed along the East Coast are largely planned to operate independently. And the longest (and most expensive) high-voltage direct current cable ever laid spans just 580 kilometers. The researchers estimate the cost of the cable alone for this plan at $1.4 billion (though that is only 15 percent of the cost of all the offshore wind turbine installations).

But should this abundant resource be tapped, a unified grid of offshore turbines could help make wind power reliable. After all, as Kempton et al. wrote: "There is almost always a pressure gradient somewhere, and cyclonic events move along the coast."

Image: Courtesy of Hans Hillewaert





Rights & Permissions

Comments 9 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. dwbd 7:15 pm 04/5/2010

    There is no limit to the absurdity Fossil Fuel interests will promote in order to avoid the only realistic alternative to their smoke belching crap, namely Nuclear Energy.

    Offshore Wind Energy has proven to be extraordinarily expensive. Do these morons ever hear of the Carbon Abatement cost? That is the number that really counts, and Nuclear is about $10 per ton of CO2 avoided, offshore wind is over $140 per ton of CO2 avoided – even if you can stabilize the intermittent Wind Energy by interconnecting Wind Farms over vast distances – which of course you can’t – at least not very well. Add the inevitable shadowing fossil fuel power source to the Wind Energy and the Carbon Abatement cost explodes to over $1000 per ton of CO2 avoided. Absolutely ridiculous.

    The latest offshore Wind project – they want 24.4 cents per kwh increasing by 3.5% per yr. Plus expensive transmission lines paid by the public, plus federal incentives plus triple accelerated depreciation. See:

    http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2010/04/rhode-islands-public-utilities.html

    The latest offshore Wind project – Deepwater off of Rhode Island – they want 24.4 cents per kwh increasing by 3.5% per yr. Plus expensive transmission lines paid by the public, plus federal incentives plus triple accelerated depreciation plus mirroring fossil fuel power supply paid by the public. See:

    http://atomicinsights.blogspot.com/2010/04/rhode-islands-public-utilities.html

    As a realistic alternative to Wind, consider that the cost of supplying Neutrons has dropped enormously over the past 50 yrs. That means that subcritical Fission Reactors are now or soon can be practical. GemStar claims they are ready to build a 100MW subcritical accelerator based fission reactor for $500M or $5k per kw. This will burn just about any nuclear material. Spent Nuclear Fuel (so-called nuclear waste), depleted Uranium, natural Uranium, natural Thorium.

    http://csis.org/files/attachments/091007_chang_virginia_tech.pdf

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/04/molten-salt-based-accelerator-driven.html

    Another company is close to developing a Fusion-Fission Hybrid sub-critical Fission reactor that will also burn Nuclear Waste or Natural Uranium/Thorium. There is enough depleted uranium to supply all of our power needs for centuries burnt in these types of reactors.

    http://www.helionenergy.com/Helion_Presentation-Web2.pdf

    Link to this
  2. 2. jtdwyer 7:17 pm 04/5/2010

    Surprisingly, the researchers discovered that if you covered the Earth with wind turbines, one of them would be generating electricity at all times. I hope I’m not funding these morons.

    Link to this
  3. 3. outsidethebox 7:20 pm 04/5/2010

    Read European studies where they are more advanced than here in the US re wind power. When alternative power sources (wind or solar) exceed about 15% of total capacity you start to run into problems with lack of sustainability during periods of low wind/insolation. This requires very expensive back -up non renewable capacity. In fact more expensive than if it was the principle source. The point is however the US is nowhere near that 15% figure. We should be doing more wind and solar at this time.

    Link to this
  4. 4. candide 10:53 pm 04/5/2010

    Part of the problem with discussions like this is that people seem to think that wind (in this case) is the only thing to be considered. Wind, solar, nuclear, tidal, geothermal and more ALL have a role to play in helping to minimize the percentage of power generated from fossil fuels.

    They EACH have advantages and disadvantages, which proponents tend to exaggerate and mi9nimize respectively.

    Link to this
  5. 5. cm1701 12:12 am 04/6/2010

    "Part of the problem with discussions like this is that people seem to think that wind (in this case) is the only thing to be considered. Wind, solar, nuclear, tidal, geothermal and more ALL have a role to play in helping to minimize the percentage of power generated from fossil fuels."

    YES!

    AND energy efficiency in homes businesses and factories and a move toward cleaner transport and mass transit where effective

    We need to look at projects like Deepwater Wind- things that affordably remove the NIMBY from the calculation. How can we possibly lead the world on this critical if we don’t even want to look at a windmills?

    Link to this
  6. 6. sethdayal 1:21 am 04/6/2010

    From the report it looks like the aggregate was around zero percent for a week here and there presumably in the middle of the summer. So I guess we all turn off our freezers. let the meat rot, and head to the beach till the wind starts blowing again.

    This is typical of the claptrap that is produced when civil engineers and weathermen claiming peer reviewed status producing a study with major electrical engineering content without any electrical engineers involved.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Bops 4:56 am 04/6/2010

    It’s not a big deal to use another energy source it the wind is not blowing. We don’t even need to store energy…ALL have a role in helping to minimize the percentage of power generated from dirty fuels. Energy can work together.

    Link to this
  8. 8. jtdwyer 5:29 am 04/6/2010

    sethdayal – That is the best thing about peer review of research: since new findings are only considered by those who have a self-defined conception of reality, each diversified field of study must only be concerned about its consistency with itself.

    This is how the existence of dark matter became accepted among astrophysicists despite particle physicists’ having no theoretical basis for its existence, for an unrelated example. This has allowed its continued success over the past 40 years despite there being no theoretical or experimental evidence of its material existence.

    But I’m sure we won’t have that problem with the production of consumable resources for the increasing world population, as people will begin to noticeably suffer and die by then.

    Link to this
  9. 9. sethdayal 9:52 pm 04/6/2010

    To fill in the wind mill grid low spots, the only current alternative is burning massive amounts of deadly radioactive toxic gas spewing NG. Its been shown that the low efficiency fast spooling gas plant necessary wastes so much heat that it would be better to skip the wind altogether and build high efficiency slow spooling gas plant.

    Better still mass produced nuclear power at less than 10% the cost of wind.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American MIND iPad

Give a Gift & Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now >>

X

Email this Article

X