With oil and energy prices skyrocketing, more people around the world are starting to look at green and renewable energy sources. Wind power, which was found to be a true green alternative to fossil fuels, has gotten a recent boost thanks to a bet by oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens. His company, Mesa Power, is planning a $2 billion investment in what will be the world's largest wind farm ever built, set to be located in west Texas. According to Pickens, if the US were to take advantage of what he calls the wind corridor that runs from western Texas to the Canadian border, the country could have 20 percent of its energy supplied by wind power.
Image credit: NASA/JPL
20 percent is not bad, but where else could large scale wind farms be built? A Publication in the current issue of Geophysical Research Letters by a team of scientists from NASA's JPL uses satellite data to measure the surface stresses over the oceans. Recent technological advances have made floating wind farms possible, but the key is putting them in the right locations. The article examined eight years of data from the QuikSCAT data to determine the energy distribution over the world's ocean. The research identified three causes of regional variations in the power carried by the winds: "land mass deflection of the surface flow, the gap wind channeled by land topography, and surface stress variation produced by atmospheric buoyancy driven by ocean front."
From the data, the researchers found that high wind areas over the ocean could be used to harness between 500 and 800 W/m2. That's less than solar power can generate under ideal conditions, which is 1000 W/m2, although ideal solar conditions are rare. Given the higher efficiency of wind power over solar, however, the cost per kWh of electricity produced would be less. The research identified a host of locations where the winds blow continually almost year round due to various combinations of geographical and physical effects. High wind areas highlighted by the JPL were Cape Mendocino off the coast of northern California, the seas around Tasmania and New Zealand, in the south Pacific, and off Tierra del Fuego in South America.