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Can Wind Farms Actually Weaken Hurricanes?

Now this is worth knowing about. Simulations have shown that spinning turbine blades of offshore wind farms can actually slow the wind speeds of a hurricane.

Imagine all those people living on the coasts who argued great hulking white spikes of metal ruined the view. Wonder how they feel knowing they could save their lives.

It happens as the hurricane moves into the reach of the blades. Gradually the speed of the winds on the outside of the barrel are slowed, the waves reduce in size and ultimately the hurricane itself loses pace.

It’s thanks to 24 years of work from Professor Mark Z. Jacobson from Stanford University who teamed with Cristina Archer a civil and environmental engineer from the University of Delaware. Part of that involved looking at how much energy turbines can take from wind currents. After hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, he wondered what impact wind farms could have on these storms.

He discovered that it was significant. In fact, wind speeds could be reduced by as much as 92%. Storm surges could be brought down by 79%. When he took Katrina, the one that caused unbelievable destruction in New Orleans in 2005, a certain number of turbines would have slowed speeds by as much as 98 mph, and the storm surge would have been dropped by 79%.

And don’t forget, they play Superman as well as Batman. By their very nature, as they spin round they’re generating green electricity which supports the drive for a more sustainable energy supply. Related: Is This The Future Of Battery Tech?

It’s not just the winds either that can be impacted. Using a weather forecasting model and the example of Hurricane Harvey which chucked over 100 trillion litres of water onto US soil in 2017, she found that rainfall could have been reduced by more than 20%. “You’re not going to eliminate hurricane damage but reduce it,” she says. “It’s one thing to have some puddles on the street and another when you have water on the first floor of people’s homes.”

Now admittedly, the windfarm in the Katrina simulation that had such success was made of 78,000 turbines, and the Harvey one involved 60,000. The largest one that currently exists has about 7000. But Prof. Jacobson is adamant that installing them makes sense. “The turbines will reduce the damage if a hurricane comes through,” he says. The cost of damage from Katrina is in the region of $81bn.

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Leave a comment
  • Eric M Staib on October 24 2018 said:
    I'm 100% pro-wind and pro-solar and even think we should give them tax breaks, but...

    Doesn't it seem like a pretty bad idea to introduce massive amounts of soon-to-be-shrapnel?
  • skeptos on October 24 2018 said:
    Two Comments. One on the post, another on the study at issue.

    1. I'm no PC warrior by any stretch, but why is the joint work of a male professor and a female professor referred to as 'he/his' work? Mark Jacobson has name recognition (not always for the best reasons - see his recent attempted lawsuit against PNAS), but it is 'their' work, no?

    2. On the research itself, the wind turbines were shown to be effective when located in a specific optimal location to suppress a past storm with a known trajectory. In other words, it's optimized for the specific storm that did occur, not one that will occur. This is a huge difference. It's certainly possible that a future storm will track exactly as Harvey did, but that is highly unlikely.
  • Mitch on October 25 2018 said:
    Dont they shut down windmills once wind speeds are over a certain level? Nice theory and computer simulation... but can windmills even be built that can operate with 100 mph sustained winds?

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