Wind power potential tested off South Carolina coast

Gauging the potential of new, renewable energy sources is often a problem when establishing them. Scientists from the Savannah River National Laboratory are working toward a solution for that problem.

On a U.S. Coast Guard platform off the coast of Georgetown, SRNL, the Clemson University Restoration Institute (CURI) and their partners have begun testing technology to provide insight into how much energy potential South Carolina’s offshore winds offer.

SRNL, CURI and partners — utility provider Santee Cooper, Clemson University’s S.C. Institute for Energy Studies, Coastal Carolina University, the Center for Hydrogen Research and the U.S. Coast Guard — make up the South Carolina Consortium for Offshore Wind. This consortium will study South Carolina’s coastal winds to determine the viability of developing the state’s first offshore wind farm.

What is the goal?

The ultimate goal is the deployment of offshore wind energy technology to diversify South Carolina’s energy resources and significantly increase the region’s energy independence.

The Eastern seaboard has one of the largest untapped supplies of wind energy in the United States. Wind is considered one of the most cost-effective renewable energy sources, according to SRNL releases.

It has been estimated that South Carolina alone could produce up to 3.5 gigawatts (GW) of power from its coastal and offshore wind resources using existing wind turbines technology. Capturing less than 3 percent of this potential would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1.2 to 2.5 million tons per year and up to 16,000 tons of SO2 emissions, according to information provided by SRNL.

As a frame of reference, provided by the South Carolina Energy Office, 1 GW of generated power can power about 400,000 homes, and the State of Vermont is powered off of only 1.2 GW of power.

South Carolina wind resources are a viable economic energy resource, according to the Energy Office. However, a scarcity of reliable documentation on local wind power has prevented its use.

Marked advancements in recent years in wind turbine technology and wind mapping technology have greatly increased the ability to better locate and utilize this valuable renewable resource, according to the Energy Office.

Before the region can make use of this wind, however, it is necessary to find out its potential as a cost-effective and practical energy source.

On Aug. 4, SRNL, CURI and their partners installed Second Wind’s Triton Sonic Wind Profiler, which uses sonic detection and ranging (SODAR) technology on an offshore Coast Guard platform to study the technology’s potential as an offshore wind measurement tool.

SODAR, which measures wind movement by detecting its effect on sound waves, provides wind measurements at a much greater range of altitudes than traditional meteorological towers. The technology can measure wind speed, direction and other characteristics at heights extending up to 200 meters, compared to a typical 60-meter meteorological tower.

Evaluating wind energy potential

"The use of SODAR could reduce the cost of offshore wind energy exploration, significantly improve offshore wind energy forecasts and accelerate the offshore wind energy development," said Ralph Nichols, who leads SRNL’s wind initiatives.

Although SODAR technology has been in use for other types of atmospheric measurements for a number of years, the SRNL-CURI project is one of the first uses of remote-sensing technology to measure wind offshore on the Atlantic seaboard. It is also the first offshore use of Second Wind’s Triton.

"This is a step forward both for offshore wind power and for remote sensing systems, and we are pleased to be boosting the development of offshore wind in the United States," said Second Wind CEO Larry Letteney.

On the platform, the team will test and evaluate the SODAR technology’s compatibility with ocean conditions. It will also develop calculations to correct for movement caused by ocean waves and study the impact of the ocean’s acoustic environment on the station’s operation. Data will be collected from the platform for one year to better understand the wind characteristics along the transitional area from offshore to the coast.

Prior to installation on the offshore platform, the SODAR station was tested at the Savannah River Site then on an island near Georgetown. Those tests confirmed that the SODAR station’s performance was equivalent to traditional anemometers and established a coastline reference point for the offshore test site.

As part of this project, the partners have also installed small wind turbines at five high schools and the Center for Hydrogen Research in Aiken, where much of SRNL’s energy research and development is located.

These are intended as permanent installations to educate communities about wind power and understand concerns regarding its use.

By Mike Gellatly, Aiken Standard,