A new research suggests that because wind speeds on open oceans are so strong, it could be used to generate "civilization scale power," that is if humans find a way to cover vast stretches of oceans and seas with wind turbines.
It's an extremely unlikely scenario. How would humans even develop, install, and maintain ocean-based wind turbines at such a grand scale? Also, implementing that kind of energy system could alter the Earth's climate, the research suggests.
Still, there's an overarching message in the study: Open oceans boast a huge potential for providing the world with an alternative energy source, and while covering all of Earth's oceans with wind turbines is remarkably impossible, it's still promising. It suggests that floating wind farms and other similar ocean-based setups could be the next innovation in wind energy.
Why Wind Turbines Should Be On Oceans, Not On Land
When stretched over oceans, wind turbines could produce three times as much power compared to when they're placed on land, the study suggests. It was published in PNAS by Anna Possner, a researcher from the Carnegie Institute; along with Ken Caldeira, from Stanford University's Carnegie Institution for Science.
The collaborators used a climate model to compare the output of a real-life Kansas-based wind farm with a same-size theoretical one, which is located on the North Atlantic ocean.
As expected, the results showed a significant gap between land-based and sea-based wind energy. The researchers outlined various reasons that could explain that gap:
For starters, wind speeds over the ocean's surface are 70 percent stronger compared with on land, according to Bryony DuPont, an engineering professor at Oregon State, as Newsweek reports. This is because there's almost no topographical variation — meaning oceans have a far more uniform flatness than land — and there are far less obstructions on oceans than on land — meaning there are fewer objects that could interfere with the wind, such as skyscrapers or gigantic statues.
"Over land, the turbines are just sort of scraping the kinetic energy out of the lowest part of the atmosphere, whereas over the ocean, it's depleting the kinetic energy out of most of the troposphere, or the lower part of the atmosphere," said Caldeira, as The Washington Post reports.
How Wind Turbines Can Power The Whole World
There are hurdles, however. For one, wind strength varies depending on what season it is. The researchers say that in winter, North Atlantic wind farms could provide sufficient energy to meet all the world's current needs.
"On an annual mean basis, the wind power available in the North Atlantic could be sufficient to power the world."
But that drops significantly in the summer — in this climate, the wind farm wouldn't even generate enough power for the entirety of Europe.
Those, however, are merely theoretical estimates and calculations. Many practical factors will probably make the whole concept more complex, including the lack of technology that can capture ocean-based wind energy at that scale.
What do you think? Should humans put wind turbines on oceans? Do you think that's even possible? As always, feel free to sound off in the comments section below if you have any thoughts!