Researchers at the Carnegie Institution for Science have discovered something rather remarkable about wind farms – we’ve apparently been doing it wrong.

Two of Carnegie’s researchers Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira wanted to know if setting up a wind farm in the open ocean (the North Atlantic to be specific) could generate more electricity than a wind farm on land, five times more energy in fact.

The pair set to work using modelling tools to compare the energy generation of a theoretical open-ocean wind farm with a wind farm in Kansas.

The results reveal that in some areas ocean wind farms could generate three times as much energy as their land-based counterparts. They also found that drag introduced by the wind turbines in the North Atlantic would not slow down the winds as much as they would on land.

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

There is however a problem, a few in fact.

Wind, particularly in the North Atlantic is very seasonal and while in the winter farms could produce enough energy to power all of humanities needs, in summer that energy would be limited to Europe of the US.

The other problem is that at the moment constructing huge wind turbines at sea is expensive. Not only are construction costs high but maintenance is as well.

Finally, wind turbines need to be designed to withstand high wind speeds. We’re not well versed in the science of it all but our favourite YouTuber Tom Scott is and he explains it rather well in the video below.


[Source – Carnegie Science] [Image – CC BY 2.0 Patrick Finnegan]