Open-sea wind farms could power humanity, but there's a catch


In a statement to HuffPost UK, Emma Pinchbeck, RenewableUK's Executive Director said: "The UK is the world leader in offshore wind and we have just built the first floating wind farm off the coast of Scotland".

"We found that giant ocean-based windfarms are able to tap into the energy of the winds throughout much of the atmosphere, whereas windfarms onshore remain constrained by the near-surface wind resources".

The study by the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford University in California has calculated a wind farm spanning three million square kilometres - roughly the size of India - and based in the North Atlantic ocean could generate "civilisation scale power". In doing so, they found that the wind currents blowing over the area are capable of generating some 70 percent higher speed than those breezing over land. "Will sticking giant wind farms out there just slow down the winds so much that it is no better than over land?"

Researchers Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira note a growing body of evidence showing that onshore farms are limited to a maximum of 1.5W per square metre, whereas open ocean farms in areas of high atmospheric turbulence might achieve rates of 6W, especially in the North Atlantic "convergence zone" where tropical and arctic air masses meet. However, during the summer months the same turbines would likely only produce enough power to support Europe or possibly the United States.

A new research suggests that because wind speeds on open oceans are so strong, it could be used to generate "civilization scale power", that is if humans find a way to cover vast stretches of oceans and seas with wind turbines.

"The real question is", Caldeira continued, "can the atmosphere over the ocean move more energy downward than the atmosphere over land is able to?"

"There is something special about some ocean environments and there are places like the North Atlantic where the Gulf Stream and all of its heat is pouring into the atmosphere", said Caldeira.

Wind farms in the open ocean can generate far more renewable energy than those on land, possibly enough to power the whole world, said a U.S. study on Monday, 9 October.

The study is a "green light" for operators to invest in suitable open ocean technology like floating turbines, said Caldeira, who claimed the main challenge to commercially successful open ocean farms is the low cost of oil and gas.

However, this tremendous wind power is very seasonal.