Sunday, October 01, 2006

Floating wind turbines

Some folks who advocate for renewable energy are against this same technology in their backyard. To wit, Senator Ted Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy's opposition to the off-shore wind turbines proposed near Cape Cod. A recent innovation may ease these NIMBYs.

Floating turbines are the newest brainchilds of MIT researchers. The turbines would float on platforms a hundred miles out where no one on shore could see them, and where the wind blows consistently and strongly. Because of these superior wind conditions, they could produce twice as much electricity per year as conventional off-shore turbines.

The MIT team took the design for floating oil and gas exploration rigs and applied the concepts to wind turbines. The team partnered with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and came up with a design that uses long steel cables to connect the turbine's platform to a concrete block at the bottom of the ocean. Rather than constructing a giant turbine tower stretching from the ocean floor, the platform and turbine use the water's buoyancy to support them. Initial analyses predict these turbines could work in a depth of nearly 600 feet.

The mechanism of the cables tethered to the ocean floor only allows the turbine to move a few feet in hurricane conditions, although other designs that incorporate the same engineering that skyscrapers use to survive high winds and earthquakes promise even less movement of the turbines in extreme conditions.

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