NASA maps could boost offshore renewables

Space agency NASA has created maps that could boost renewable energy supplies by pinpointing high wind areas in the Earth's oceans for turbine farms.

Scientists have created maps using almost a decade of data from NASA’s QuikSCAT satellite, which tracks the speed, direction and power of winds near the ocean surface.

They could be used to find the best locations for offshore wind farms.

Tim Liu, lead author of the research and QuikSCAT science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said: “Wind energy is environmentally friendly.

“After the initial energy investment to build and install wind turbines, you don’t burn fossil fuels that emit carbon. Like solar power, wind energy is green energy.”

Wind energy has the potential to provide between 10% and 15% of future world energy requirements, according to Paul Dimotakis, JPL chief technologist.

While wind energy generates slightly less watts of energy per square metre than solar energy, it can be converted to electricity more efficiently and cheaply, he said.

Ocean wind farms are also said to have less environmental impact than onshore wind farms, noise from which tends to disturb sensitive wildlife.

Moreover, winds are generally stronger over the ocean than on land because there is less friction to slow them.

The new research identifies areas where the winds blow continuously at high speeds – ideal for offshore wind farms.

One examples of an area with these kinds of winds is off the coast of northern California, near Cape Mendocino, where the bulging land mass deflects winds creating a jet that blows year-round.

Others are around Tasmania, New Zealand, and Tierra del Fuego in South America.

High winds can also be found in the mid-latitudes of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where winter storms normally track.

Scientists say the research, funded by NASA’s Earth Science Division, will also help predict storms, boost weather forecast accuracy and warn ships of hazardous areas.

More details about QuikSCAT can be found here.

David Gibbs

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