Offshore wind farms have taken off throughout much of the world, but they've yet to catch on in the US. With cheaper (and dirtier) forms of energy available, the steep cost of erecting an offshore wind tower has hindered development off of our coasts. But researchers from the University of Maine tried a new approach last week by launching a floating wind machine--the first offshore wind installation in American waters.
The tower, launched in Brewer, Maine, rests on three hollow concrete tubes and will be anchored in the Gulf of Maine. It's not big, but it's a hopeful sign of things to come, as Matthew Wald explains at The New York Times:
It is a mere 20 kilowatts in capacity, an amount of power that could be soaked up by a handful of big suburban houses on a hot summer day. But it is one-eighth the dimensions of the one the researchers hope to deploy in the next few years, a gigantic 6-megawatt model, with each blade as long as the wingspan of a Boeing 747.
The steady winds over the ocean give offshore machines a big advantage over land-based ones. Where onshore wind machines produce most of their energy at night, when it is least needed, this one will catch the predictable onshore winds that happen when the sun heats the land more than the sea.
The floating turbine, which resembles an oil drilling platform, is one of seven offshore wind projects funded by the Energy Department in a $168 million program. It's the first to be put to use, according to Jose Zayas, director of the department’s Wind and Water Power Technologies office.
While it is small, “it’s important to recognize it is at a relevant scale,” he said. “It does represent the behaviors and dynamics of a large machine.”
Photo: Jeff Kirlin