Carnegie Mellon University
February 14, 2012

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon Team Finds Hurricanes Pose Potential Risks to Offshore Wind Turbines

Contact: Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 /

PITTSBURGH—Carnegie Mellon University’s Stephen Rose, Paulina Jaramillo, Mitchell Small, Iris Grossmann and Jay Apt have found that offshore wind turbines in the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coast waters may be at risk from hurricanes, but there are ways to reduce the risk.

Jaramillo, an assistant professor in CMU’s Department of Engineering and Public Policy, is the corresponding author of the paper that appears in the Feb. 13 edition of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that if the U.S. is to generate 20 percent of its electricity from wind that some 50 GW (gigawatts) of power will have to come from offshore turbines that may be vulnerable to hurricane damage,” Jaramillo said. “While no offshore wind farms have been built in the U.S., there are several in advanced stages of planning.”

The team found that offshore wind turbines may be vulnerable to hurricanes because the maximum wind speeds in these storms can exceed the design limits of current wind turbines. Current wind turbines are designed to withstand wind speeds seen in category 1 hurricanes.

Already, 1,200 wind turbines generating more than two gigawatts of power dot the coasts of northern Europe, Japan and China. In 2003, for example, seven wind turbines in Okinawa, Japan, were destroyed by typhoon Maemi and several turbines in China were damaged by typhoon Dujuan, according to Jaramillo.

The research focused on areas in the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico near shore regions where the most accessible offshore wind resources are available. More than 90 hurricanes struck these geographical areas between 1949 and 2008.

“We are developing models that can help understand how to reduce the risk that hurricanes pose to offshore wind projects,” Jaramillo said. “This is an important study because we are pointing the ways to methods that can allow U.S. offshore wind resources to increase the supply of renewable, low carbon electricity.”

The team argues in their PNAS paper that developing reasonable safety measures, including improved design requirements and backup power for the motors that allow turbines to track the wind direction could mitigate serious hurricane damage.