A Million-Dollar Buoy Will Spot the Best Sites for Wind Farms

With roughly 12,383 miles of coastline, the US has plenty of potential installation sites for offshore wind farms. Floating data collection centers like the one shown above will help energy companies and government agencies alike find the windiest, and most effective locations along America's shores.

Since wind farm technology has really only come into its own over the past decade or so, there isn't a whole lot of actionable meteorological data available to study where to put arrays in order to generate the most energy. Scientists know which way the wind blows, obviously. Detailed data about how strong and how consistent these gusts are at the specific heights of turbines for any given location along the coast on the other hand, simply doesn't exist. Yet.


A pair of 20,000 pound, road-crew yellow buoys are being built to change that. Commissioned by the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory at a cost of $1.3 million apiece, these rafts are packed with solar-powered sensor equipment to measure and track everything from air temperatures and barometric pressure to wave height and water conductivity. They're even outfitted with LIDAR and acoustic Doppler sensors to record underwater current patterns. These readings will provide researchers a holistic view of the area, how the waves and wind interact, and whether the conditions are right for setting up an offshore farm.

The two buoys are set to begin scouting two potential wind farm locations—one in Coos Bay, OR, the other at Virginia Beach, VA—in November. Should the pair prove successful, they may soon act as harbingers of forthcoming wind array installations. [PNNL]


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