Conditions far out at sea may offer a chance to extract more energy over a given area than we do with wind turbines right now. New simulations by Stanford researchers show that floating wind turbines could be packed together more tightly without harming their performance.
Arrange wind turbines too densely on land or near the coast, and troubling fluid dynamics can kick in, with drag causing less wind to flow where the giant windmills are erected. But in work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Stanford researchers show that the effect is less pronounced far out at sea, which means that more turbines can be installed before the effect develops. That means it’s possible to extract six megawatts per square kilometer rather than the 1.5 achieved on land using the same turbines.
In fact, as IEEE Spectrum points out, the analysis suggests that the entire world’s current energy demand could be met with three million square kilometers of floating wind turbines far out at sea.
Clearly, that’s unlikely to actually happen (even if there are 510 million square kilometers of ocean). But it’s good news for the nascent business in floating wind turbines, which seeks to do away with deep-sea foundations and instead place the things on buoyant platforms.
California is currently mulling the idea, while the world's first such wind farm is currently being built off the coast of Scotland (the picture above shows one of its turbines being ferried to the site). The only real barrier now is, as we’ve pointed out in the past, cost. If that can be overcome, floating wind power could go a long way to satisfying our future energy demands.