Maine businesses and technologies could benefit from offshore wind manufacturing


December 31, 2013

afdd3599b10b9e24-offshoreUMaine’s VoltunUS offshore wind turbine. According to a new study Offshore wind farms could cut the impact of hurricanes making landfall by 50 percent.

Mark Jacobson a scientist from Stanford looked at two hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and analyzed what would have happened if those storms had run into big wind farms. The results are startling and encouraging.

In models when the storms hit the ocean wind farms most of their energy would have been knocked out of them, in essence stolen by the windmills. For Katrina if a sizable wind farm had been in her path the wind energy of the storm would have been cut by 50 percent and her storm surge would have diminished by 72 percent. If Sandy hit an ocean wind farm, again the strength of energy would have been cut 50 percent and the storm surge would have been 21 percent less.

The University of Maine has developed the VolturnUS offshore floating wind platform and patented the design. Plans are for a wind farm to be placed in the deep ocean in the Gulf of Maine. And the people of Maine are largly in favor of offshore wind.

With the revelation that offshore wind could protect land from the impacts of super storms the technology developed here could be used up and down the American coast. Already Maine’s expertise has landed Maine businesses contracts. For example Cianbro will be manufacturing the wind turbines for the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts.

Big ocean wind farms are built to withstand monster hurricanes. If the wind farm is big enough to decrease the energy of the storm, it winds up protecting itself from damage by limiting the wind that each turbine sees. There is strength in numbers.

However disempowering a storm like Katrina would have taken a wind farm made up of 70,000 turbines. That is a huge farm and would be big enough to generate 300 gigawatts of electricity – large enough to power Louisiana, and many other cities.

On two accounts developing offshore wind makes sense.

• Each of the hurricanes did more than $100 billion worth of damage. An array of 70,000 turbines would run about $1.5 million per turbine. Our nation has already spent the equivalent of $1.5 million per turbine beginning to rebuild the cities affected. And putting up the turbines protects against future hurricanes.

• The amount of electricity generated could easily power New York City saving billions in power costs.

In Japan the first offshore wind farm is in operation as the country shut down all its nuclear facilities following the Fukashima nuclear disaster and tsunami.