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ScienceShot: Thar She Blows … Over

13 February 2012 3:00 pm
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When a hurricane hits, a considerable fraction of offshore wind turbines proposed along some areas of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast could buckle and collapse, according to a new study. In the most costly damage scenario, individual turbines wouldn't be able to minimize stresses imposed by hurricane-force winds by turning to face the storm, either because they can't swivel fast enough or don't have battery backup that enables such motion during power outages. In the shallow waters off Galveston County, Texas—the riskiest of the four areas for non-swiveling turbines, largely due to the frequency of strong hurricanes there—there's a 60% chance that at least one such support tower in a 50-turbine wind farm will buckle during a 20-year interval and a 30% chance that more than half of them will buckle, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Offshore of Dare County, North Carolina, there's a 60% chance that at least one tower in a 50-turbine wind farm will buckle but only a 9% chance that more than half of the turbines there will. Results suggest that beefing up turbine support towers—as well as making sure that turbines will be able to swivel rapidly in case of rapidly changing winds, such as those likely during a hurricane—will greatly enhance the probability that offshore wind farms can help meet U.S. needs for renewable electricity, the researchers say.

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*This item has been updated to reflect that offshore wind turbines are being proposed for areas of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast.

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