Offshore U.S. wind turbines seen as vulnerable to hurricanes

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University suggest more attention be paid to turbine design, especially for technologies in the Atlantic and U.S. Gulf Coast.

I find myself wondering why it took so long for someone to look into this, but new research from Carnegie Mellon University focuses on the risks hurricanes would pose to offshore wind turbines in the United States.

The researchers found that maximum wind speeds associated with hurricanes are higher than what offshore wind turbines have been built to handle. Most are built to withstand the winds associated with a Category 1 storm, and that is pretty much it.

Paulina Jaramillo, an assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon's Department of Engineering and Public Policy, was one of the researchers responsible for the findings, which were published Feb. 13 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Commenting on the findings, Jaramillo said:

"The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that if the U.S. is to generate 20 percent of its electricity from wind that some 50 gigawatts of power will have to come from offshore turbines that may be vulnerable to hurricane damage. While no offshore wind farms have been built in the U.S., there are several in advanced stages of planning."

How big a threat is this really?

There were more than 90 hurricanes between 1949 and 2008 in the geographic areas considered to be most promising for offshore wind development in the Atlantic Ocean and the U.S. Gulf Coast. Among the measures that the researchers take to counter the treat are improved turbine designs and backup power sources for the motors that allow turbines to track wind direction.

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