There is increasing interest in a potential offshore wind farm in Lake Erie. While there are sea-based wind turbines in Europe, proposals for such projects of the U.S. coast have been blocked, often by the same folks who call for greater investments in alternative energy sources (see, e.g., the ill-fated Cape Wind project off of Massachusetts). As a result, a Lake Erie wind project has the potential both to be the first offland wind project in the U.S., as well as the first fresh water wind project in the world. All offshore wind projects to date have been built in salt water.
In my conversations from local wind energy experts, I've learned that a fresh water wind farm might present unique design challenges. Constructing ocean-based wind turbines is rather easy, in large part because constructing ocean-based platforms is nothing new. Engineers know how to address the problems caused by currents, corrosion, and inclement weather. In fresh water, however, the potential problems are different. As the shallowest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie's depth is a definite plus from a construciton standpoint. On the other hand, the surface of Lake Erie can freeze. Also, as I understand it, drifting ice on the surface can build up substantial momentum, and present different problems than ocean waves. As reported in the story to which I linked above:
Engineering challenges include anchoring towers in a lake that's 50 to 60 feet deep. The towers would stretch 240 feet or more above the water and hold rotating blades that, tip to tip, are longer than a football field. The towers must withstand waves and winter ice.If VC readers know more about this subject, I would be interested to learn their perspectives on the engineering challenges of such a project, and how they might be overcome.
But encountering the difficulties would generate unique research and development, potentially making the region a hub for off-shore wind power, said Richard Stuebi, the Cleveland Foundation's energy expert.