Offshore wind could provide a lot of energy—but as with photovoltaics, this power supply can be intermittent and unpredictable. A new approach from researchers at MIT could mitigate that problem, allowing the electricity generated by floating wind farms to be stored and then used, on demand, whenever it’s needed.
Engineers have conceived of an offshore wind turbine anchored by hollow concrete spheres that could also turn seawater into electricity. The turbine would allow offshore wind farm managers to store excess energy for a time when there is no wind.
The design would use huge concrete orbs (the diameter of the dome on the U.S. Capitol building) to anchor floating wind generators to the ocean floor. When the wind is strong and the turbines produce more power than is needed, some of the electricity could be diverted to a pump that would remove the water from the hollow sphere. And when the wind is slow and the power produced by the turbines is insufficient, water would be allowed to flow back into the sphere through a turbine attached to a generator, and the resulting electricity would be sent back to shore.
“One such 25-meter sphere in 400-meter-deep water could store up to 6 megawatt-hours of power, the MIT researchers have calculated; that means that 1,000 such spheres could supply as much power as a nuclear plant for several hours—enough to make them a reliable source of power,” reports David Chandler for Phys.Org.
According to the researchers, the trick is finding the correct concrete wall thickness to withstand the hydrostatic pressure while also providing enough ballast mass – this will depend on the strength of the concrete used. The concrete could incorporate significant amounts of fly ash from coal-fired power plants, and the spheres could double as artificial coral reefs.
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