Natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy would become things of the past if the U.S. built massive wind turbines off the coast, according to a new study.
Such mammoth wind farms would be able to slow hurricane wind speeds and storm surges.
The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, claims that a “massive field of wind turbines could slow hurricane wind speeds by as much as 92 miles per hour and reduce storm surges by 79 percent in some situations,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
“If people are on the edge of whether they want to do offshore wind in the East Coast or Gulf Coast, I think this should be an additional motivation for doing it,” said Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson, one of the report’s authors.
Using computer modelling of real storms, the study notes that 78,000 massive wind turbines across a 35,000 square kilometer area of ocean on the Gulf Coast near New Orleans would have slowed Hurricane Katrina’s wind speeds at landfall by 80 to 98 miles per hour and reduced storm surge by 79 percent.
Similarly, the same turbine configuration would have been able to slow Superstorm Sandy by 78 to 87 miles per hour and reduce storm surge by 34 percent if it was off the coast from New York City.
Jacobson also argues that the massive wind turbines would come at no cost because they would pay for themselves with the amount of power they generate.
“New York is considering building $20 billion in seawalls,” Jacobson said. “Seawalls don’t pay for themselves. Turbines do.”
Wait, won’t the turbines be destroyed by hurricanes? Jacobson says no. The turbines’ blades create resistance which slows the speeds of the storm’s outer winds. This in turn reduces the size of storm waves and increases the hurricane’s central air pressure.
But there have been cases of wind turbines being knocked down or even shut off because of too much wind. Last November a 10-year old wind turbine collapsed due to high winds hitting the Oregon-Washington border.
Another issue with building tens of thousands of wind turbines offshore is the environmental impacts. If the wind turbines are strong enough to slow hurricanes and storm surges, what would they do to bird migratory patterns or marine life? It’s estimated that wind turbines already kill 888,000 bats and 573,000 birds per year, including some rare and endangered birds.
There is also the issue of cost. Wind power costs have been coming down in recent years, but are still significantly higher than traditional energy sources like coal or natural gas.
Offshore wind is one of the costliest energy sources, according to the Energy Information Administration, costing about $222 per megawatt hour — onshore wind only costs $86 per megawatt hour. The only source of energy that’s more costly to generate than offshore wind is solar thermal energy at $261 per megawatt hour.
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