Harnessing the Power of Hurricanes into Usable Energy

By on March 6, 2014

Hurricanes have been some of the costliest and deadliest natural disasters of the 21st century. Damage can span across entire regions, such as the Gulf Coast with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 or New York and the tri-state areas with the unexpected hit from Hurricane Sandy in 2012. What if the destructive power behind these forces of nature could be channeled into a usable form of energy? Professor Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University has been working on computer simulations showing that offshore wind turbines can achieve such a feat, while reducing wind speeds by up to 92 mph and decreasing storm surges by up to 79 percent.

After over 24 years of computer modeling, Jacobson reveals simulations of Hurricanes Katrina, Isaac and Sandy passing through an array of offshore turbines. Cristina Archer and William Kempton from the University of Delaware joined the study presented in the latest issue of Nature Climate Change to test if the turbines could actually withstand the hurricane-force winds.

“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.”

With Hurricane Katrina specifically, the team’s models show that 78,000 turbines would have significantly weakened the storm. Practicality and costs are certainly concerns with installing such an army of wind turbines along coastal lands. However, Jacobson argues that the costs of hurricane damage (sometimes reaching billions of dollars) would be seriously reduced. The turbines would also generate electrical power, essentially paying for themselves while reducing air pollution and global warming.

Current proposals to protect hurricane-prone lands include building seawalls, estimated at $10-$40 billion per installation. While this method would protect against surges, it does not offer the benefit of reducing destructive storm winds.

Offshore wind farms already exist in northeastern Europe, and China is quickly developing similar structures. In the United States, 11 offshore turbines are under construction along the East Coast and Texas, with a predicted 200 between the Deepwater Wind Energy Center in New England and the Baryonyx Rio Grande Wind Farms in Texas. The U.S. Department of Energy is on board with the project—their studies show that offshore wind farms are capable of producing four times the amount of energy from all existing power plants.

Related Posts:

  • No Related Posts

About Katherine Hymel

%d bloggers like this: