By Jericho Rajninger
How Do Wind Turbines Work?:
Wind turbines are a method of energy conversion. They take one form of energy — kinetic energy from wind — and transform it, through a series of mechanical processes, into electricity. Wind energy is considered renewable because it occurs naturally in the world around us. Earth will never run out of wind.
About Offshore Wind Turbines:
When you imagine wind energy, you might picture an array of turbines towering over an expansive, flat, inland plain. But turbines can also be constructed out at sea in offshore farms. These turbines, located miles off the coast, are exposed to more powerful and consistent winds compared to onshore farms, which means they can produce far more energy. The energy generated by these turbines is transferred back to the power grid through cables running along the ocean floor.
Because forty percent of the United States population lives on a coastline, offshore wind farms can conveniently transfer renewable energy directly to consumers. Offshore wind turbines are also located far away from land, effectively avoiding disputes about land use, aesthetics and noise that sometimes hinder development of onshore turbines.
Opportunities For Growth in Offshore Wind Energy:
Wind is already one of the largest sources of renewable energy in the United States, providing as much as 6 percent of the country’s energy demand. Expanding offshore wind farms could vastly increase the amount of wind energy available and, by some estimates, could satisfy all electricity demand by 2040.
Still, obstacles remain. Installing and monitoring offshore wind turbines is a difficult task, and the environment on the water can be corrosive. Today, Europe and Asia are far ahead of the United States in developing offshore wind farms. In 2014, Europe was home to 82 farms across 11 countries. The U.S. installed its first offshore farm in 2016 and still has fewer than a dozen proposed projects.
The U.S. Pacific coast faces the unique problem of water depth. As opposed to the waters on the Atlantic coast or around Europe, the continental shelf in the Pacific is too deep to bolt wind turbines directly to the ocean floor. As a result, turbines off the coast of California must float. But the technology that will allow for the development of commercial floating wind farms is still in early stages of development and will be costly. Further complications to overcome in California seas include concerns over jurisdiction and marine life and conflicts with military operations off of the coast.
More about Yuxin Wu
Twitter: @eesalbl and @BerkeleyLab
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/eesalbnl/ and https://www.linkedin.com/company/lawrence-berkeley-national-laboratory/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/eesalbnl/ and https://www.facebook.com/BerkeleyLab/
- Offshore Wind Research and Development: https://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/offshore-wind-research-and-development
- Something New May Be Rising Off California Coast: Wind Farms: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/19/business/energy-environment/california-coast-wind-farms.html
- Offshore Wind Energy Investment Quadruples Despite Covid-19 Slump: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jul/13/offshore-wind-energy-investment-quadruples-despite-covid-19-slump
- U.S. Offshore Wind Power Blown on Course: https://www.ecowatch.com/us-offshore-wind-power-2646394500.html?rebelltitem=2#rebelltitem2
- Will Floating Turbines Usher in a New Wave of Offshore Wind?: https://e360.yale.edu/features/will-floating-turbines-usher-in-a-new-wave-of-offshore-wind
- With Much of the World’s Economy Slowed Down, Green Energy Powers On: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/30/business/renewable-energy.html
- Offshore Wind May Help the Planet — But Will It Hurt Whales?: https://www.npr.org/2019/12/05/782694371/offshore-wind-may-help-the-planet-but-will-it-hurt-whales
Image Courtesy Jenny Nuss, Berkeley Lab
Ethan: Can we improve the performance of offshore wind turbines using fiber-optic cables? This is Ethan Elkind of Climate Break. Offshore turbines are already difficult to monitor and repair. But floating turbines may be especially prone to malfunction. I asked Yuxin Wu, a scientist in the Geophysics Department at Berkeley Lab, if he thinks fiber-optics might help.
Dr. Wu: One of these sensors that we’re using can provide you with a millimeter resolution. So what that means is for a meter long fiber, you can have 1000 sensing locations.
Ethan: Without these sensors, faulty hardware in a turbine may go unnoticed and cause extensive damage. Fiber-optic technology can help scientists understand the dynamics of floating turbines while also revealing problems that arise. Wu says it could even make offshore wind cheaper.
Dr. Wu: Basically knowing the problem way ahead before it gets too costly will help you to reduce the cost of energy overall.
Ethan: Offshore turbines could generate 10% of California’s electricity by 2040. But at least for now, development of wind farms in the Pacific remains on the horizon, facing hurdles in technology and policy. For more information on Wu’s work at Berkeley Lab, and for more climate solutions, go to climatebreak.org or wherever you get your podcasts.