By Tim Radford
The answer: take wind farming onto the high seas. The force of the winds sweeping across the open ocean would be enough to generate 18 billion kilowatts—which is about the global annual energy demand right now.
The scientists report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that although the best that wind farms on land can deliver is electricity at the rate of 1.5 watts per square meter, the mid-latitudes of the North Atlantic could do much better: up to 6 watts per square meter.
In a calculation that is overtly hypothetical, they evaluate winds as so much kinetic energy to be exploited. Ocean wind speeds are at least 70 percent higher than wind speeds over land. Surface winds in the North Atlantic can reach 11 kms per second and 13.5 kms per second in the Southern Hemisphere, which would be enough in theory to take generating rates up to 20 or even 80 watts per square meter.
Research at this level does not answer the world's energy problems: instead it sets out, once again, the viable possibility of a world driven by renewable energy, rather than the fossil fuels that drive ever-higher greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and potentially catastrophic global warming and climate change.
And it is one step onwards from a cascade of such thinking over the past few years. In 2013, scientists at the University of Delaware worked out that wind, solar and renewable sources could deliver almost all the energy needs of the U.S.
Other groups—including one at Stanford University in the U.S.—have not just backed up this reasoning but extended it, with a roadmap for at least 139 of the 197 nations that in December 2015 resolved to take steps to contain global warming to no more than 2°C by 2100.
But the laws of thermodynamics present practical problems. One of these is that, because energy is always conserved, a wind farm inevitably "saps" the energy of the wind that slams into the turbines, leaving a weaker wind for the next turbine in its path.
So although, in theory, winds could deliver at the rate of 60 to 80 watts per square meter, this "turbine drag" would slow the winds at every stage.
Even so, engineers could look forward to a harvest of 3 to 5 watts per square meter, which is much higher than the best available on land.
Someone had to do the sums. "Are the winds so fast just because there is nothing out there to slow them down? Will sticking giant wind farms out there just slow down the winds so much that it is no better than over land?" asked Ken Caldeira, senior scientist at the global ecology department at the Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford.
Problems to Solve
"The real question is can the atmosphere over the ocean move more energy downward than the atmosphere over land is able to?"
In principle, their answer is: yes, it can. Open ocean wind farms spread across 3 million square kilometers of ocean could in theory harness so much more of the atmosphere's energy and generate all the power the world needs right now.
That still leaves all the other problems unsolved: the challenge of engineering turbines fit for the open ocean and of catering for seasonal variations in wind energy; of collecting the generated current and delivering it to the world's cities, and the even bigger problem of the national and global politics involved. But sophisticated modeling says there is nothing on Earth to prevent it being done.
"While no commercial-scale deepwater wind farms yet exist, our results suggest that such technologies, if they become technically and economically feasible, could potentially provide civilization-scale power," the scientists wrote.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.
Block Island, the smallest town in the country's smallest state, is now powered by Rhode Island's Deepwater Wind, the nation's first offshore wind farm.
Block Island Power Company officially silenced its diesel generating plant in the early hours on Monday, meaning its 2,000 electric customers now have access to clean, renewable energy.
The utility's interim president, Jeffery Wright, told The Block Island Times that the town's electrical system was "successfully transferred" to the wind farm and National Grid's Sea2Shore submarine cable on May 1 at 5:30 a.m.
The town's switch ends nearly a century of dependency on costly, nosy and polluting generators that burn 1 million gallons of diesel fuel annually, Wright told Newsday.
Block Islanders will save $25 to $30 a month off their electricity bills with a starting cost of 24 cents per kWh, according to InsideClimate News.
Wright told Rhode Island Public Radio that switching to clean energy eliminates the risks of transporting diesel fuel to the island.
"(The fuel) gets loaded onto a truck, it gets transported over here, it gets unloaded out of the truck and the risk of a spill is always something we're concerned with, and that risk right now was diminished a lot," he said.
Deepwater Wind's 30 megawatt Block Island wind farm consists of five wind turbines. Company CEO Jeffrey Grybowski said it's "our honor to celebrate this historic milestone with Block Islanders."
"We're confident that the example Block Island has set will inspire communities up and down the Eastern Seaboard to chart their own path toward a renewable future," he added.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Kit Kennedy
With the flip of a switch Monday, the country's first offshore wind power project began commercial operations. That's something to celebrate—and it's only the beginning for this abundant energy resource!
An American First: The nation's first offshore wind power project, located off the Rhode Island coast, can be the first of many, as long as federal and state governments continue to lead with smart policies.
Developed by U.S.-based Deepwater Wind, the Block Island Wind Farm is located three miles southeast of Block Island, in Rhode Island waters and features five 6-megawatt turbines—enough to power 17,000 homes; transmission cables connect the turbines to Block Island and the mainland. Four of the turbines went online Monday and Deepwater expects the fifth to be operating next month once a minor fix is made.
Previously, Block Island relied on an electricity plant that burned polluting and expensive diesel oil. By displacing that plant, the Block Island Wind Farm will not only improve public health and air quality, but also reduce the cost of electricity for Block Islanders by as much as 40 percent.
Deepwater employed more than 300 local workers in the construction process, including welders, ironworkers, electricians and carpenters, with vessels moving in and out of four Rhode Island ports. The massive steel support structures for the turbines were built by Gulf Island Fabrication, a Louisiana- and Texas-based offshore oil and gas platform manufacturer.
And these jobs will be only the beginning, if the U.S. continues to commit to offshore wind power. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that by 2050, with the right policies in place, the offshore wind industry could support 160,000 jobs here in America.
Deepwater worked hard, with stakeholders and others, to build support for the project and minimize conflicts. And the Natural Resources Defense Council was proud to join them, other environmental groups and the New England Aquarium in developing specific steps to protect endangered North Atlantic Right Whales in the area during project construction; Deepwater will follow similar protective measures in building other offshore wind projects in the area.
NRDC is proud to have joined other environmental groups, the New England Aquarium, and developer Deepwater Wind in developing steps to protect endangered North Atlantic Right Whales during construction. That's me visiting during the initial construction.
Block Island is Just the Start for Wind Power
At least ten other U.S. offshore wind projects are already poised to move forward. And soon, the Long Island Power Authority, with the support of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is slated to approve a contract for a 90-megawatt offshore wind project 30 miles northeast of Montauk.
U.S. unveils groundbreaking offshore wind strategy https://t.co/WqhmQLNnS3 via @EcoWatch https://t.co/DDl0h5XEmr— Climate Nexus (@Climate Nexus)1473695644.0
The federal agency in charge of offshore wind power siting—the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management—has already granted 11 leases to offshore wind developers in designated "wind energy areas" along the Atlantic coast. These developers include American companies such as Deepwater Wind and Fishermen's Energy, as well as leading European developers like DONG Energy. Overall, the U.S. Department of Energy sees the potential to develop 86 gigawatts of offshore wind power capacity by 2050, enough to power 31 million homes.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management 's next offshore wind leasing auction is scheduled for Dec. 15 for the New York wind energy area, an 80,000-acre area located 12 miles south of the Rockaways and Long Beach. New York's clean energy agency, NYSERDA, will participate in that auction as part of an innovative plan for the state to guide offshore wind development and promote competition.
Next up: The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is slated to auction leasing rights to an offshore wind energy area on Dec. 15, as offshore wind power continues to make progress here in the U.S. after decades of success in Europe. U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management
Offshore Wind Costs are Coming Down
Eighty-two offshore wind power projects in a dozen European countries now supply electricity to 8 million European homes. As offshore wind in Europe has scaled up, a robust supply chain has developed and technology has advanced, resulting in plummeting costs there. In fact, prices have dropped by 28 percent since the second half of 2015 alone and continue to fall.
Offshore Wind Powers Ahead in Europe - EcoWatch https://t.co/mv5lcQP45e @WindEnergyPower @wind_systems— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1469411407.0
The U.S. offshore wind industry will also experience these lower costs as more projects are built and the U.S. creates its own supply chain. In some areas, such as Long Island's South Fork where electricity prices are high and land for generation or transmission is scarce, offshore wind power is already cost-competitive. The Long Island Power Authority, for instance, has stated that the South Fork offshore wind project is the lowest cost option for that region's needs.
Offshore wind will add economic value in other ways, too. Eighty percent of the electricity used in the U.S. is consumed in coastal states, much of it in population centers close to offshore winds. By avoiding the need for lengthy and expensive new transmission infrastructure, offshore wind can reduce system costs. And because offshore wind power produces the most electricity when demand is high—on hot summer afternoons and cold winter days and nights—it can help make the electric grid more reliable and lower wholesale electricity costs, which skyrocket when demand soars. Offshore wind also produces health benefits by displacing fossil fuel power generation, not only protecting our communities but avoiding an array of health-related costs.
Because of its jobs, infrastructure, clean energy and public health benefits, offshore wind has won bipartisan support at the state level. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, for instance, signed legislation this summer that will lead to the construction of 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind capacity off Massachusetts within a decade. New York's Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has committed to making offshore wind a key part of his plan to get 50 percent of New York's electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
While offshore wind generation is just beginning, America's onshore wind industry continues to surge, providing almost 5 percent of U.S. electricity generation last year and surpassing 75 gigawatts of total capacity this year.
During the campaign, President-elect Donald Trump vowed to strengthen American infrastructure and create jobs. Investing in clean energy—from energy efficiency to land-based wind to solar and offshore wind power—is the smartest way to do this. For progress on offshore wind to continue at the right pace, the federal government must continue to be an active partner with states like Massachusetts and New York in siting offshore wind infrastructure. As the new administration and Congress take office, the Natural Resources Defense Council will work with other clean energy stakeholders to build the case for this partnership and all the benefits it can produce.
Check out this new video about the Block Island Wind Farm:
Surrounded by monstrous blades and tower sections on the docks of the Port of Providence, Gov. Gina Raimondo was joined by local elected leaders and clean energy advocates Monday to celebrate the final stages of construction of the nation's first offshore wind farm.
Fred. Olsen Windcarrier
As soon as next week, the company Deepwater Wind will begin installing the turbine towers and blades for the project, located three miles southeast of Block Island, Rhode Island and east of Long Island, New York.
With the potential to supply all of Block Island with clean power, the 30 MW wind farm could jumpstart the nation's efforts to finally capture the immense pollution-free resource off our coasts, advocates say.
"We're poised to tap the tremendous energy resource provided by the winds that blow off our shores," Rob Sargent, Environment America's Energy Program director and among those celebrating the project today in Providence, said. "Rhode Island deserves tremendous credit for being the first, but it certainly won't be the last."
Located in a renewable energy zone designated by Rhode Island state officials several years ago, the Block Island project will reduce carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years in amounts equivalent to taking 150,000 cars off the road, create more than 300 jobs and save local residents up to 40 percent on their energy bills.
Other projects off the Atlantic Coast could provide similar benefits. A 2014 report showed that the 1.5 million acres designated for wind energy off the Atlantic Coast could support enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes, offsetting dirty fossil fuel energy sources and creating local jobs.
Advocates urged other Atlantic Coast states to follow Rhode Island's lead and pressed federal decision makers to continue to do their part to support offshore wind.
"If we're serious about tackling pollution from fossil fuels and helping our local economy, we should commit ourselves to meeting all our energy needs with clean, renewable energy sources such as offshore wind," Sargent said.
"That's why we need bold commitments from governors and state leaders, we need Congress to extend offshore wind tax incentives and we need federal officials to continue leading the way through programs like the Smart from the Start Initiative. With the right support, Block Island will be just the beginning."