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Buoy Makes a Splash off New Jersey Coast

PNNL deploys the second of two buoys for wind energy research

December 2015
Buoy Makes a Splash off New Jersey Coast
The buoy was deployed in early November 2015, and now floats off the New Jersey coast.

We’ve learned how to harness the power of the sun, and even wind as it rolls across open landscapes. But what about offshore coastal wind? Offshore wind has great potential for generating energy. The problem is verifying computer models and their measurements of ocean winds, and understanding the physics behind any errors.

Researchers at PNNL are one step closer to unlocking this secret with the recent deployment of a high-tech research buoy 5 km off the coast of New Jersey.

The buoy is the second of its kind to be deployed, following one positioned 40 kilometers east of Virginia Beach in December 2014. Operated and managed by PNNL, the buoys weigh 20,000 pounds each (more than a grown elephant), and use a pulsed laser to measure winds as high as 650 feet (nearly the length of two football fields). The buoys are equipped with meteorological and oceanographic gear that measures and helps predict the power-producing potential of winds that blow off shores in the United States. The equipment measures wind speed and direction, and records air and sea surface temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity, wave height and period, water conductivity, and subsurface ocean currents.

"We know offshore winds are powerful, but these buoys will allow us to measure how strong they really are at the heights of wind turbines," said PNNL atmospheric scientist Will Shaw. "Data provided by the buoys will give us a much clearer picture of how much power can be generated at specific sites along the American coastline—and enable us to generate that clean, renewable power sooner."

The $1.3 million buoy made several stops on its way to the east coast. It initially arrived at PNNL's Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim Bay, in the Puget Sound northwest of Seattle, for a brief commissioning period in the fall of 2014. The buoy was then transported to Washington D.C. where it was on public display at the U.S. Department of Energy headquarters before reaching its final destination in New Jersey.

Currently, there are no commercial wind farms producing power in the U.S., but the DOE-funded buoys are part of an effort to see these farms come to fruition. A National Offshore Wind Energy Grid Interconnection Study published in August 2014 estimated that the U.S. has enough offshore wind energy resources to power 17 million homes. That's more than the number of homes in Washington, Oregon, and California combined.

The buoys were purchased by DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy to improve offshore turbine performance in the near term and reduce barriers to private investment in large-scale offshore wind energy development in the long term. The buoys were manufactured by AXYS Technologies, Inc., in Sidney, British Columbia.

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