Harnessing the Power of the Seas When Generating Sustainable, Floating Wind Power; Climate Change: What is Being Done and What More Can be Done

Abdelnabi, Ahmed, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Neeley, Kathryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Momot, Michael, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

Climate change is arguably the most challenging, and potentially devastating, conundrum faced by the human race. Its consequences are already being felt in some parts of the world, and, if left unchecked, it will irreversibly change our way of life as a species. The technical portion of my thesis focuses on a relatively new and under-utilized clean energy source: floating wind farms. While wind power has been used for decades, floating wind turbines are not widely deployed, despite the fact that they can harness much more wind energy than their land counterparts. Thus, my team and I developed two prototype floating wind turbine bases that we believe help improve the technology as a whole. The STS section of my thesis focuses on how we, as a society, view climate change, what we’ve done to combat it, and, most importantly, why there’s such a disparity between the threat of the problem and the relatively little lack of effort put towards finding a solution.
Our two floating turbine base prototypes consist of a naturally pressurized base (NPB) design, and a “weighted chains” design. The naturally pressurized base uses a combination of viscous and buoyant forces to keep the turbine steady. The NPB has holes that run through the entirety of the base and are tapered, that is, they are wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. This design uses water’s natural viscosity such that water exits the base (at the bottom) much slower than it enters (at the top). Thus, if the turbine begins tipping one way, the other side will still have the weight of the water in the holes to counteract this tilt, that way no one side ever overwhelms the other if it tilts. This design is promising because it would be cost-effective, considering it takes advantage of natural forces that the turbine will experience in the ocean, so there wouldn’t be a need for active stabilizers. The design with the weighted chains takes a typical semisubmersible base, which is triangular in shape, and adds weighted chains to it. A chain is attached to each vertex in the base, and the three chains will eventually converge into a single chain that will be connected to the ocean floor. At and below this point of convergence, weights will be added to this single chain. This weighted chain will act similarly to a ballast, yet with a more active role. Basically, when the base tilts to one side, the weighted chain will provide enough weight such that the individual chain(s) on the other side(s) will be tense enough to counteract the tilting. This design should, in theory, provide great stability and is also cost-effective, since the parts it requires are simple to manufacture and relatively inexpensive.
In my STS research, I examined the discrepancy between the massive threat of climate change, and the relatively little urgency shown in our efforts to combat it. I labeled this discrepancy as “collective apathy”, which I thought to be a concise yet accurate description of our collective attitude toward climate change. My research showed that this apathy is in part due to a lack of long-term thinking. In short, many people are more concerned with short-term gain than they are with a problem whose consequences will not be fully felt until many years down the line. However, short-term focus is not the only reason behind our collective apathy, as my research also showed that many people have become apathetic towards climate change due to resignation. More specifically, many people feel that climate change will not be stopped, either due to lack of solutions or a lack of effort to implement those solutions.
Combining both technical and STS research felt very rewarding, as it allowed me the opportunity to not just examine the threat of climate change, but also to do my part in helping combat it. Floating wind turbines can harness wind energy better than any other present technology, and, if implemented on a large enough scale, will go a long way in reducing our unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels as our main energy source. Additionally, my STS research provided extra motivation for me to optimize my technical designs for the base, as I wanted to prove that we shouldn’t be resigned to our fate just yet, as some already are, and that there are still solutions we can implement to fight climate change.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Climate Change, Climate Action, Climate Politics, Wind Energy, Floating Wind, Turbine Base

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Michael Momot
STS Advisor: Kathryn Neeley
Technical Team Members: Kyle Dana, Cydnie Golson, Emily Fedroff, Kelly Boenisch

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