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Large-scale offshore wind farm effects on weather and climate in Puerto Rico

Active Dates 9/1/2022-6/30/2024
Program Area Atmospheric System Research
Project Description
Large-scale wind farm effects on weather and climate in Puerto Rico
U. Ciri, University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (Principal Investigator)

The urgency of transitioning to renewable and sustainble energy sources has lately received a great emphasis because of increased environmental concerns and the limitations in availability of conventional fossil fuels. Governmental agencies across the world are setting increasingly ambitious renewability targets. Wind energy is expected to play a key role in the renewable energy transition. Achieving the envisaged targets will very likely entail large-scale installations of “wind farms” (clusters of wind turbines deployed over a relatively small area). In particular, offshore wind farms are expected to share a major fraction of new wind energy installations. Therefore, it is critical to analyze the potential impact of widespread offshore wind energy plants on weather and climate. Wind turbines naturally interacts with the atmosphere, since they extract energy from the incoming wind to generate electricity, creating in the process a wake downstream of the machine where the wind speed is lower and turbulence is increased. It is not trivial to predict the net effects on the various atmospheric dynamics, on weather and climate patterns of an unprecedented large number of wakes from multiple wind farms. This is even more challenging for offshore power-plants, which interact not only with the atmosphere, but also affect sea conditions (such as waves and currents) and, thus, the overall ocean-atmosphere dynamics.

The objective of this proposal is to address this knowledge gap and to investigate the effects of widespread offshore wind power-plants on local weather and climate patterns. The proposed work consists in developing a novel numerical framework based on a coupled ocean-atmosphere regional circulation model that explicitly includes the effects of wind turbines (and wind farms) in the numerical weather prediction simulations. We will study the changes in present climatological conditions due to different scenarios of offshore wind development, from the current level to an extreme scenario of 100% electricity from wind. The simulations will provide data not only in terms of potential energy production from the turbines, but also the climatological impacts on, for instance, sea surface temperatures, ocean currents and atmospheric fluxes.

The proposed work focuses on the tropical area of the Atlantic Ocean/Caribbean Sea, and in particular the region of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has adopted one of the most aggressive energy transition policy, which includes 100% electricity generation by renewable sources by 2050. The island is now at a critical moment in the effort to modernize the grid and generation infrastructure after the widespread devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, and a series of earthquakes in 2020. This project seeks to provide a high-fidelity quantification of the potential impacts of widespread offshore wind energy deployment on the atmosphere and the ocean, in order to enable a sustainable and effective renewable energy transition. Results from this project could benefit policy-makers, plant developers and the broad community with site-specific data for science-informed decisions and a long-term view on the offshore wind energy potential and its effects. While specific results of climatology are region-dependent, the numerical framework developed is general and this tool can be applied for assessment at a regional scale of offshore wind energy impacts elsewhere.
Award Recipient(s)
  • University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez (PI: Ciri, Umberto)