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Wind turbines could reduce damage from hurricanes without breaking themselves

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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According to Stanford Professor Mark Jacobson, offshore wind turbines could reduce onshore damage from hurricanes without sustaining significant damage themselves. According to his new study, published in the 26 February issue of Nature Climate Change, large arrays of offshore turbines can reduce wind speeds by up to 50% and storm surges by 6-79%. As a result, cities upstream of the wind turbines could sustain much less damage.

In this project, Jacobson’s group numerically modelled the atmosphere and ran simulations for Hurricanes Sandy, Katrina, and Ivan. In all cases, the presence of large offshore wind turbine arrays reduced the wind speeds of the incoming hurricane. Furthermore, the hurricanes themselves dissipated much more quickly once they hit land than when the turbines were removed from the simulations.

Taking a step back, this result broadly makes sense. Thermodynamics tells us that energy is not created or destroyed – rather, it changes form. In this case, a portion of the energy in the wind is being transformed into mechanical energy (the turning of the wind turbine’s blades) and then electricity.

For those who might wonder about the hurricane’s impact on the turbine itself – the study also found that the hurricane’s wind speeds dissipated too quickly to cause significant risk to the turbine. In fact, even in the case of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf of Mexico, the group observed that wind speeds remained below critical levels.

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. OgreMk5 1:28 pm 03/14/2014

    While I love this idea (and reviewed the paper on my own blog), one thing needs to mentioned. The minimum number of turbines in the simulation was a little over 78,000 situated within 100km of New Orleans.

    The largest number of turbines in the sim was nearly half a million situated all along the gulf coast of the US and Cuba.

    On the other hand, during Katrina, those 78,000 turbines would have generated almost half a Terawatt of power, which is a significant chuck of the world’s energy needs.

    Finally, the change in hurricane dynamics (including a massive reduction in storm surge (in some areas)) would have reduced the damage to New Orleans and surrounding areas significantly.

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  2. 2. saveenergy 7:45 pm 03/14/2014

    Words fail me (almost) !!
    Instead of sitting in air-conditioned offices playing doomsday arcade games on computers with badly written software, these ‘scientists’ (I use the word loosely), should get out & experience a force 10 in a trawler, join some storm chasers to get a taste of the forces involved & & then do a basic math’s course.
    Then they could estimate the carbon & economic cost of 78,000 turbines” that like King Canute will achieved nothing.

    There are 12yr olds with more knowledge & common sense than the dorks who wrote this tripe

    Natures does what nature does…live with it, move…or perish.

    [ Turbines have to shut down well before you get hurricane force, in our last big wind (92mph) 9% of our local turbines were damaged + 3 were destroyed. ]

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  3. 3. OgreMk5 9:25 am 03/17/2014

    savenergy, did you read the article?

    It explains, in detail, why three turbines won’t survive, but 78,000 will. It’s called friction.

    Common sense, is neither common, nor a good indicator for reality. Common sense says the Sun goes round Earth.

    Instead of berating the same science that is responsible for everything in your life, I would encourage you to read and understand. Feel free to look for errors (I believe that the software is available for you to use for free), but don’t reject it because you THINK it doesn’t work. Bill Gates once thought that 640k of memory would be plenty forever.

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