Showing posts with label wind. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wind. Show all posts

Sunday, July 20, 2008

WHY OIL WHEN THERE’S WIND OFFSHORE?

President George W. Bush looks out at the ocean and dreams of oil beneath the waves. Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) look at the ocean and understand how the winds that create those waves can help power the world – cleanly.

Using the same satellite that scans the oceans for wind patterns to aid in weather and climate forecasting, scientists at JPL have been mapping the oceans looking for the best, windiest, locations to build offshore wind farms including deep water possibilities that could employ floating turbines.

Floating turbines are set to become the next big technological challenge in wind energy development. And those challenges are great. Wind turbines are as tall as skyscrapers. Floating, they must be kept nearly vertical even in heavy seas to lessen loads and stresses on blades, towers and generating equipment. On calm days the oceans are still harsh. Corrosive salt water and salty air mean continual corrosion problems with steel components. In the open ocean storms are likely to sink at least a few turbines. Can floating turbines be built and deployed economically enough so that some can be sacrificed? Regular maintenance – which must be done by man – will prove interesting, at least. How strong will stomachs need to be to climb inside 300-foot tall towers that even on windless days will be something less than rock steady? Talk about swaying in the breeze.

Well before StatoilHydro and Siemens launch their first floating offshore wind turbine next year, Siemens is working on a new turbine design for offshore use aimed to cut down on maintenance. The company is testing two prototype, direct drive, gearless turbines similar to those used by German turbine maker Enercon. The long, slow moving blades of a turbine are a good match for a direct drive electric generator which favors high torque over rotational speed. The first 3.6 megawatt device is now erected in Denmark, a second machine is nearly ready for deployment.


The StatoilHydro floating turbine design is a single cylindrical tower – the Spar-buoy – that extends high above the waves and hundreds of feet below it . Atop the tower is a recognizable three bladed turbine. At the bottom of the cylinder – underwater – is ballast, buoyancy and cable anchored to the sea bed to keep the turbine upright.

But the StatoilHydro floating turbine design is not the only idea out there. Inventor Richard Galea of Malta thinks that the tower of a floating turbine should be at the center of a floating ring. The tower and turbine of his patented concept would be mounted in a gimbal-like device at the ring’s center. As waves roll up and down, the gimbal, along with ballasting of the tower and cabling to the bottom, would keep the turbine vertical.

His concept is to be launched as a Technology Offer in CORDIS (Community Research and Development Information Service) a European Union research and development organization.

Drilling for oil and natural gas is still somewhat of a guessing game. Drillers aren’t exactly sure where the reserves are and in what quantity, if they’re there at all. Yet we know with certainty that there’s considerable wind energy just over the horizon, out of sight from oceanfront property owners. The wind is guaranteed. The oil is not. The maps from JPL will prove it. Likely the first floating offshore wind turbine will be generating power long before the first drilling rig strikes it rich on the US continental shelf.

True, today, wind power can’t fuel cars and trucks. But the automobile industry is changing,ready to adapt to plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles. Alternatively, as oil man T. Boone Pickens suggests, more wind power on the grid could displace natural gas now used for power generation freeing up those gas reserves for vehicular fueling.

Instead of using the current oil crisis as an excuse to drill on the nation’s continental shelf, as President Bush has signed off on and wants Congress to do the same, this crisis could be used as the beginning of a sweeping change in energy that could include floating offshore wind turbines.

The JPL’s map research, published in Geophysical Research Letters, was funded by NASA's Earth Science Division, which works to advance the frontiers of scientific discovery about Earth, its climate and its future.

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