The Great Lakes Wind Atlas Could Boost Region’s Wind Energy Development

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Researchers have compiled meteorological data from several sources to create the first full observational wind atlas of the Great Lakes.

A wind atlas is exactly what it sounds like, a data collection of wind speed and wind direction in a given region, and now, for the first time, researchers from Cornell University and the Technical University of Denmark have combined to create the first full observational wind atlas for the Great Lakes region of North America.

1170px-GreatLakes.A2005027.1635.250mThe wind data sourced for this new high-definition wind atlas was gathered from weather stations, buoys, the NASA satellite QuikSCAT which focuses on wind direction and speed over water bodies, and various other satellites equipped with synthetic aperture radar (SAR).

“The techniques that we have employed optimize the strengths of each measurement type, allowing a longtime series of data to be combined with the exceptional spatial resolution of the satellites – corrected for gaps in data due to ice cover in the winter months – using a new algorithm,” said lead author Paula Doubrawa, a Cornell doctoral candidate in the field of engineering, who along with her adviser Rebecca Barthelmie, a professor of engineering at Cornell, and researchers from the Technical University of Denmark, authored the article Satellite winds as a tool for offshore wind resource assessment: The Great Lakes Wind Atlas, published in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment.

With this in mind, the Great Lakes Wind Atlas could have a significant impact on developing the Great Lakes wind energy market. As Cornell University noted in its press release, “scientists, economists and environmentalists have touted the potential for wind-energy development in the Great Lakes region” for years, “as it features a large expanse of exploitable wind resources.” Extending over 150,000 square miles (388 498 square kilometers), and touching eight US states and two Canadian provinces, the Great Lakes account for approximately 84% of North America’s surface freshwater, and 21% of Earth’s total surface freshwater.

It’s unsurprising then that the Great Lakes have been so much the focus of wind energy proponents for so long.

Earlier this year, the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation wrote a piece highlighting the potential for offshore wind development in the US. The figures presented showed that the US had a total of 4,223 GW of offshore wind generating potential, with 50 GW alone coming from Lake Erie, the fourth largest of the five Great Lakes. Floating wind turbines could be one of the ways in which offshore wind could be best harnessed for electricity, as has been put forward back in 2012.

Image Credit: “GreatLakes.A2005027.1635.250m” by en:Moderate-Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer – NASA Visible Earth. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

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Joshua S Hill

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15 thoughts on “The Great Lakes Wind Atlas Could Boost Region’s Wind Energy Development

  • The world is just full of renewable energy just waiting to be tapped into and exploited its going to be a bonaza of human prosperity. Future generations will look at the energy conservation mindset of today with bewilderment. They will not comprehend the costs that fossil energy imposed and thus will not understand why we spent so much effort conserving energy.

    I see the future where energy is as little thought about as air. Energy will be something for experts and the folk in outer space colonies to worry about,but regular folk in their day to day wont even think about it. No pain at the pump no heating or air conditioning mindfulness the cost of those energy needs will become trivial even for the poor.

    • Agreed.

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    • agree too

  • A number of the largest and most productive actively operating wind power sites in Ontario are within 1 km of one of the great lakes. You don’t need to use floating turbines to capture the wind that sweeps across the lakes, you can site wind turbines close to the lake and reduce implementation complexity.

  • Can anybody explain the psychology of the peculiarly American attitude that wind turbines are fine on land but become unsightly monsters at sea? In England it’s the reverse. Some North Sea fields are well out of sight, but that doesn’t hold for say the London Array in the Thames estuary.

    • It’s only along very expensive shoreline real estate like that in the NE where offshore power is an issue. If it’s beyond the horizon of just faded into atmospheric bluing it shouldn’t even be an issue. They might wana paint wind mills that sky camouflage color the one military jets are painted light bluish grey color I think that way they blend into to atmospheric bluing.

    • The problem in the US is that if you put the turbine out of sight means putting them in very deep water. That means you have to use floating platforms. At present floating wind turbines are not commercially available. All off shore wind turbines in Europe are in relatively shallow water with an average depth of 85 meter and the tower is simply cemented into the sea bottom.

      The first proposed offshore wind farm in the US was in shallow water but unfortunately would have been just close enough to be seen on shore where some rich people lived. On the west coast no one is yet talking about building off short wind turbines because the water is about 3000 meters deep only 5 kilometers away from shore. There are places in the Gulf of mexico and south Atlantic that are not that deep. However that would expose the turbine to hurricanes. you can design turbines to withstand hurricanes but that increases the cost.

      • That doesn’t really answer James’ question. The vast majority of European wind farms are (just) visible from the shore too, and many are built near resort towns.

        It’s purely an attitude thing: what makes Americans feel that the possibility of seeing a turbine on a very clear day is enough to spoil their precious holiday home’s view?

        • Some of those aesthetic complaints are made by people with fossil fuel lobby connections and personal axes to grind. In which case they would be questioned by most reasonable people.

        • Lake Michigan is deep. The best wind farm locations are near shore.
          Chicago also has excess nuclear power. To reduce carbon emissions all that illinois has to do is purchase more nuclear electricity and less from cheaper natural gas.

          • Chicago and Illinois will be purchasing nuclear power. Their utility bills will be rising to cover the subsidies that two of Exelon’s reactors will be receiving.

    • Unfortunately, if you want to build an offshore wind farm near a large city that could use that electricity, there’s a good chance that site is already off the coast of an upper income exurb or resort neighborhood. Winds strong enough for wind turbines are also good for executives’ weekend sailboats. Obviously, their need for a place to get away from it all is greater than their city’s need for electricity.
      Maybe some younger, more adventurous sailors can make a sport out of “extreme sailing” by using offshore turbine arrays for a slalom course. Then it will be part of the playground instead of an imposition.

    • Perhaps its because wind turbines dotted the prairies years ago and there is so much land that they can disappear into the background.

      IMO, the aversion to looking at them is the same on land. And there are none to look at in the water. We are probably feeling the undercurrent of Koch lead bs filtering through the media. There is a healthy amount of NIMBY everywhere in the US. Places even object to cell phone towers.
      But complain about reception. :

  • So much wind potential untapped. Over 4000GW. It needs development of special technology to survive the winter freezing of freshwater lakes. The lack of salt is an advantage. The proximity of load centers is another.

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