New findings from Stanford University researchers have shown that there is enough offshore wind energy along the United States East Coast to provide electricity to at least one-third of the country.
The area between Maine and Virginia is of particular interest due to the lack of strong hurricanes in the region, making it a prime spot for offshore wind turbines. Turbines in this location would have the ability to satisfy peak-time power needs of these states during fall, winter, and spring.
“We knew there was a lot of wind out there,” said Mark Z. Jacobson, research director and professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford. “This is the first actual quantification of the total resource and the time of day that the resource peaks.” He added that the information provides “practical information to wind farm developers about the best areas to place turbines.”
The researchers used a weather model to track five years worth of hourly wind speeds at 90 meters above sea level, the standard height of offshore wind turbines. 140,000 turbines capable of generating 5 megawatts of electricity were inserted into the computer model at various distances and ocean depths between Florida and Maine. The winds produced between 965 and 1,375 terawatt hours of electricity every year, enough to fulfill the demands of one-third of the country.
Fortunately, this shouldn’t affect ocean views, wildlife or recreational and commercial water use. Many turbines would be so far from shore it would be impossible to see them.
While this all sounds great, research director Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford says we wouldn’t want more than 40 or 50% of electricity to be tied up in a single energy source – this lowers the risk of power outages in extreme cases. However, this is a handy tool for getting the most use out of wind farms and finding the most ideal locations.
The construction of wind farms would create jobs in states that lack a large energy industry, and it would slowly wean the country off fossil fuels. While wind energy currently costs more than natural gas, these short and long-range benefits make it an attractive option for clean energy. It might not be ideal cost-wise in the current economic conditions, but this model will likely be a valuable resource when wind energy really starts to take off.
Image CC licensed by Christopher Jones: Offshore wind farm, UK