But he says the paper's "relevance to energy policy is low" since the notion of building wind farms at sea, at the density envisioned in the paper, is still decades in the future. This is because when more wind turbines are added to a farm, the combined drag from the turning blades limits the amount of energy that can be obtained.
Two US researchers calculated that a monster wind farm spread across three million square kilometres of the ocean - a region roughly the size of India - would yield an average power output of 18 terawatts (TW) per year.
According to the research, the majority of energy captured by large wind farms originates high up in the atmosphere and is transported downwards to the surface where the turbines are able to generate the energy from the strong winds.
"In the winter, North Atlantic wind farms could provide sufficient energy to meet all of civilization's current needs", claims the report, produced by atmospheric scientist Anna Possner and climatologist Ken Caldiera, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Wind speeds on the ocean can be as much as 70% higher than on land. As a result, the problem of "turbine drag" is essentially overcome. Furthermore, the simulations suggest that, in certain areas of the ocean, atmospheric circulation patterns over the ocean allow wind farms to tap into the kinetic energy reservoir of the entire overlying troposphere, as opposed to the limited kinetic energy available at the ocean surface, thereby sustaining rates of wind power generation three times higher than those observed on land. If on land this cap is 1.5 watts per square metre, in the Atlantic, this would be more than 6 watts per square metre.
"The real question is can the atmosphere over the ocean move more energy downward than the atmosphere over land is able to?"
During the summer, the output from the vast North Atlantic wind farm would drop to one-fifth of the annual average. The scientists added that a deep sea wind farm would have to operate in "remote and harsh conditions", where waves heights often reach more than 3 meters.