Now researchers from the Carnegie Institute for Science have published research suggesting that offshore wind turbines might be able to create enough energy to provide "civilization-scale power". But it was unknown whether the faster ocean winds could actually be converted to increased amounts of electricity.
Other main challenges include turbine maintenance and the logistical and economic difficulties of transferring electricity thousands of miles to shore said Stephen Wyatt, research director at ORE Catapult, the UK's innovation and research centre for wind, wave and tidal energy.
"Are the winds so fast just because there is nothing out there to slow them down?"
The study used computer models which compared the total output of huge onshore wind farms in Kansas with the potential output of an equivalent-sized wind farm floating in the Atlantic ocean.
According to the research, the majority of energy captured by large wind farms originates high up in the atmosphere and is transported downwards to the surface where the turbines are able to generate the energy from the strong winds. Furthermore, the simulations suggest that, in certain areas of the ocean, atmospheric circulation patterns over the ocean allow wind farms to tap into the kinetic energy reservoir of the entire overlying troposphere, as opposed to the limited kinetic energy available at the ocean surface, thereby sustaining rates of wind power generation three times higher than those observed on land.
However, in the ocean, this cap is significantly higher than land.
By focusing on the North Atlantic, Possner and Caldeira found that the drag introduced by wind turbines would not slow winds down as much as they do on land, due largely to the tremendous amounts of heat pouring out of the North Atlantic Ocean into the upper atmosphere - especially during the winter. This contrast in surface warming along the USA coast drives the frequent generation of cyclones, or low-pressure systems, that cross the Atlantic and are very efficient in drawing the upper atmosphere's energy down to the height of the turbines.
Wind power production in the deep waters of the open ocean is in its infancy of commercialization. Scientists, however, state that wind power from the North Atlantic would be seasonal, falling to 1/5 of the average annual rate in the summer. What they found is that certain parts of the open ocean provide "considerably higher power generation rates".