Research from the University of Delaware and Stanford University concludes that offshore wind turbines could have an unexpected benefit alongside their primary goal of generating renewable energy. The research team suggests that offshore wind farms could reduce wind speeds, wave heights and storm surges resulting from hurricanes, weakening their impact before they reach land.
The findings, published in Nature Climate Change, demonstrates that wind farms could act as buffers to coastal cities normally afflicted by hurricanes.
“The little turbines can fight back the beast,” said study co-author Cristina Archer, associate professor at the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. Along with her team, Archer looked at how isolated weather events behave differently to the general global climate. In so doing, they discovered that hurricanes might be more affected by wind turbines than normal winds.
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Using hurricanes Katrina, Isaac and Sandy as examples, they looked at what would happen if large wind farms, with tens of thousands of turbines, had been in the storms’ paths. Instead of being destroyed, as one might expect, the wind farms removed energy from the storm’s edge and slowed down the fast-moving winds. As a result, the lower wind speeds at the storm’s perimeter gradually made their way inwards to the eye of the storm.
The researchers modeled reductions of up to 87 miles per hour (mph) for Hurricane Sandy and 92 mph for Hurricane Katrina; also, the hypothetical wind farms would have decreased storm surge by up to 34 percent for Hurricane Sandy and 79 percent for Hurricane Katrina.
“This is a totally different way to think about the interaction of the atmosphere and wind turbines,” Archer said. “We could actually take advantage of these interactions to protect coastal communities.”