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Could Hurricanes Become Louisiana’s Next Major Energy Source?

Satellite photo of Hurricane Katrina in 2005
Handout, Getty

There is no doubt that a hurricane is one of the most powerful forces on Earth. The energy used and released by a massive tropical system has been calculated to be about the same as half of the world’s current electrical generating capacity.

What if you could harness the energy of a hurricane and reduce its destructive capabilities at the same time? One researcher believes the technology is already available that would allow states like Louisiana to harness the power of the hurricane and reduce the destructive force.

Mark Jacobson is an engineering professor at Stanford University and based on his comments to the Louisiana Radio Network, he believes a system of wind turbines could not only bring free electricity to Louisiana but could have reduced the damage from a storm like Hurricane Katrina. Jacobson believes that wind turbines are the answer.

“That could have reduced the storm surge by up to… almost 80 percent and the wind speeds, locally downwind of the turbines, by more than 50 percent.”

Based on his hypothesis, a system of 78 thousand wind turbines could have significantly reduced the storm surge associated with Katrina. While the cost of building and installing that massive amount of turbines might seem high. The turbine systems could eventually pay for themselves with the electricity they generate during storms and on normal breezy days.

While some might argue that a sea wall would be a better barrier against storm surge, Jacobson makes the point that wind turbines will not only turn the wind energy into electricity but the turbines would significantly reduce the wind speeds.

“Seawalls do not generate electricity, so (they) don’t pay for themselves and they also don’t reduce the wind speeds.  They only reduce the storm surge and the wind speeds are the cause of about thirty percent of the damage.”

Could this new thinking be our salvation against one of nature’s most destructive forces? My guess it that it will take a lot more than a computer simulation to convince those living along the coast that a giant pinwheel is going to make a difference when a big storm is moving on shore.


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