Wind: Invisible Answer to World's Energy Problems

The researchers say they are puzzled by that difference, but it's likely because of a subtle difference in the two surveys. One question was asked in Delaware, but not in Cape Cod. It went something like this:

"Would you rather develop offshore wind, or would you prefer to continue to develop more power plants that run on coal and natural gas?"

That may be partly why only 5 percent of the people surveyed in Delaware said they would prefer more coal and gas production, and 95 percent said they would rather have offshore wind. That is, of course, the fundamental question concerning any form of energy. It's always a tradeoff. And wind is like all other sources of energy -- you tap into it where you find it, not where you would like for it to be.

But is the proposal to develop the mid-Atlantic area technologically feasible? The researchers say they were guided by one fundamental principle: No breakthroughs are needed.

"We're not assuming any new technology," Kempton says. "We didn't assume anything that's not already been done and is in the water and generating electricity."

None of those examples are in this country, however. Denmark is the world leader in offshore wind farms, but other countries, including Scotland, are jumping in.

Not all areas are suitable for offshore wind farms. The Delaware researchers excluded large areas because they were in migratory bird flyways, or heavily traveled shipping lanes, or too close to popular beach resorts.

And much of the Pacific coast is too steep for offshore towers, although that may change as well.

Paul D. Sclavounos, a professor of mechanical engineering and naval architecture at MIT, has designed a floating platform that could be anchored 100 miles offshore, where it would be invisible from land. Sclavounos, who has spent decades designing large floating structures for deep-sea oil and gas exploration, is hoping to try out his idea in a smaller model off the coast of Cape Cod.

"We'd have a little unit sitting out there and could show that this thing can float and behave the way we're saying it will," he says.

Kempton and his group did not include floating platforms in their study because they have yet to be proved. But is it really practical to think in terms of 166,720 offshore wind turbines? That's a lot of stuff.

Richard Garvine, Kempton's colleague at the University of Delaware, points out that the United States has muscled its way past big hurdles in the past. He notes that in the military buildup prior to World War II, the U.S. produced 2,000 warplanes in 1939. By 1946, the U.S. had put 257,000 aircraft into service.

"We did that in seven years, using 1940s technology," Garvine says.

So a few wind farms? A piece of cake, technologically speaking.

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