The Department of Energy hopes that the United States is generating 20% of its electricity by wind, by 2030. One problem, Carnegie Mellon engineers point out in a forthcoming article in the Proceedings of the National Institutes of Science, is that existing wind turbines are designed to withstand the kind of winds you get in northern European seas – not hurricanes:
We present a probabilistic model to estimate the number of turbines that would be destroyed by hurricanes in an offshore wind farm. We apply this model to estimate the risk to offshore wind farms in four representative locations in the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal waters of the United States. In the most vulnerable areas now being actively considered by developers, nearly half the turbines in a farm are likely to be destroyed in a 20-y[ear] period.
The waters off Galveston, Texas, and Dare County, North Carolina, were the two most vulnerable spots studied. A key step that could be taken to make the turbines more resilient is to engineer the ability to turn, or yaw, with the wind, even when they lack power. (Some current turbines can yaw with power, but the engineers’ models assume that hurricanes would knock that power out.)
If turbines were producing 20% of U.S. power, and this vulnerability isn’t dealt with, hurricanes would put much of the U.S. power grid under threat, the engineers say. By making some tough design choices now, “we can avoid precipitous policy decisions after the first big storm buckles a few turbine towers.”
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