New study highlights big offshore wind opportunities in North Atlantic

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Charlie Zender, a physicist at the University of California, praised the theoretical potential of the research but said the "relevance to energy policy is low" citing the extremely high construction, operation and maintenance costs of building floating wind farms which would be further compounded by the density of turbines required in the research.

The study is backed by the grants from the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research and the Carnegie Institution for Science.

But extracting efficient energy from wind involves more than putting turbines in the path of gale-force winds.

However, it would enable people to access substantial amounts of energy and more effectively than onshore wind turbines.

As expected, the results showed a significant gap between land-based and sea-based wind energy. "Will sticking giant wind farms out there just slow down the winds so much that it is no better than over land?" According to their results, turbines in the ocean wouldn't drag down the wind speeds as much as those over land would, and in some areas, they could generate three times as much electricity as their land-based counterparts.

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Which raises the question, would wind farms over the ocean suffer these same constraints or would the atmosphere be able to move more energy downward over the ocean?

"Even in the relative calm of summer, the upper geophysical limit on sustained wind power in the North Atlantic alone could be sufficient to supply all of Europe's electricity", the report reads.

"There is something special about some ocean environments and there are places like the North Atlantic where the Gulf Stream and all of its heat is pouring into the atmosphere", said Caldeira. Land or close-to-shore farms merely "scrape" energy from the lowest level of the atmosphere, said Caldeira; open ocean installations could "tap into the kinetic energy reservoir of the entire overlying troposphere", he claimed. Many practical factors will probably make the whole concept more complex, including the lack of technology that can capture ocean-based wind energy at that scale.

Two of Carnegie's researchers Anna Possner and Ken Caldeira wanted to know if setting up a wind farm in the open ocean (the North Atlantic to be specific) could generate more electricity than a wind farm on land, five times more energy in fact. That means, on an annual mean basis, the wind power available in the North Atlantic could be sufficient to power the world.