Human World

Would a damaged offshore wind turbine leak into the ocean?

A listener asked, “What would happen if one of those offshore wind turbines were damaged in a storm, like the oil rig in the Gulf? Would it leak anything into the ocean?” For the answer, we asked offshore wind expert Willett Kempton, director of the Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration at the University of Delaware.

Willett Kempton There’s some oil in the gearbox of the wind turbine. So it’s a similar substance to what’s leaking off the Gulf.

He’s referring to oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon spill of April 2010. But Kempton emphasized that there’s a huge difference in the amount of oil that would leak from a toppled wind turbine.

Willett Kempton: The difference is that, you have a big wind farm and a hurricane blows through unexpectedly, most likely it’s only going to be one or two turbines that go over. So you’re talking about a hundred gallons of oil.

In comparison, by late May 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil well was estimated to have already leaked millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Kempton added that it’s unlikely that a turbine would fall over in the first place.

Willet Kempton: When they build them, the whole point is to put them in a place where there’s little hurricane risk, and build them in such a way that they’ll withstand the worst storm in a hundred years.

Kempton gave some perspective on what it would take for a wind turbine to blow over.

Willett Kempton: You’ve got to have a couple things go wrong in order for one to blow over. But if we build a thousand wind turbines, probably, sooner or later, one will either blow over or get knocked over by a ship. But you’re not going to have a thousand go over.

June 7, 2010
Human World

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