When Smart People Play with Models, Stuff Like This Happens

The U.S. University of Maine’s Director of Advanced Structures and Composite Center, Dr. Habib Dagher, was interviewed on the most recent podcast of NPR’s Science Friday program. He talked about playing with models.

Dr. Dagher leads the Deep Sea Wind Consortium, with goals of establishing 100 wind turbines, each as tall as the Washington Monument, floating in the deep waters of the Gulf of Maine some day. Floating. That some day is only about five years away.

Dr. Dagher says, “We we’re going to walk before we run on this.” That’s why his team started with 1/150-scale models with four-foot turbine blades. When completed, the turbines will be, “about 300 feet to the hub, but five to ten megawatt turbines.

The blades would be close to 180 feet long per blade.” His scale models have withstood a variety of designed storms, including the 1991 “perfect storm” scenario that claimed the fishing boat, Andrea Gail.

Why Maine? Dr. Dagher estimates that there’s 150 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity within 50 miles of the Gulf of Maine. That’s 150 nuclear power plants worth of wind. This is the first time anything like this has been tried in the U.S, but Dr. Dagher says there’s an international race underway to go after deepwater offshore wind.

Europe has been building offshore wind farms since 1991, but the first country to do something of this scale was Norway a few years ago. Two months ago, the Japanese Parliament allocated $250 million to build six floating turbines off Fukushima.

The Plan: Produce nearly 5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. Less than half of that is still more than Maine can use in a year, so the remaining will be used to heat homes, sell on the New England grid, and fill up cars. Cars are expected to have capacity to store and transfer some of the available energy by then.

The Schedule: The team is transitioning from 1/150th scale to 1/6th scale turbines, which will be deployed off the Gulf of Maine in early 2013. Following that, a small demonstration wind farm will become operational in 2017. Pending success, expansion to a 500 megawatt farm will occur between 2017 and 2020, with full energy generation goals realized by 2030.

Ultimately, 100 Washington Monuments with 180-ft blades will be floating 20-50 miles off of Maine’s coastline. What about the distasteful image from shore? The wind turbines are expected to be invisible because of the curvature of the earth.

Now if I could just get the image of Dr. Dagher playing in a big bathtub out of my head.