So they conducted virtual experiments using a climate model, and in today's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences atmospheric scientist Anna Possner and climatologist Ken Caldiera report that turbines placed in the North Atlantic could produce three times as much power as an existing wind farm in Kansas of similar size.
Since 2011, the U.S.' wind energy generation has increased by almost 60 percent. The problem is that turbines deplete the strength of winds downstream from them, creating a phenomenon called "wind shadow" that has proven a bigger issue than predicted.
Open ocean sites thousands of kilometres from Europe or North America could hit far higher efficiency than equivalent land installations thanks to strong marine winds and optimal spacing, said the team from the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington DC. The new research found that over the mid-latitude oceans, storms regularly transfer powerful wind energy down to the surface from higher altitudes, meaning that the upper limit here for how much energy you can capture with turbines is considerably higher.
That's down to the fact that the North Atlantic taps into a huge reservoir of energy created by heat pouring into the atmosphere from the ocean surface.
Wind speeds on the ocean can be as much as 70% higher than on land. This contrast in surface warming along the U.S. coast drives the frequent generation of cyclones, or low-pressure systems, that cross the Atlantic and are very efficient in drawing the upper atmosphere's energy down to the height of the turbines.
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Though, it is not all about placing wind turbines in the ocean to extract energy.
The new study comes at a time of reckoning for terrestrial wind power.
Experimentation with the technology is already happening: Statoil is moving to build a large floating wind farm off the coast of Scotland, which will be located in waters around 100 meters deep and have 15 megawatts (million watts) of electricity generating capacity.
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.