Constructing an offshore wind farm
America Energy Industrial journalism North America Power Renewables Wind Power

American Offshore Wind Prospects

It has been estimated by the EIA, that the US has some 2,000 GW of offshore generating capacity to exploit.  This is roughly double current demands for power in the US. Much of this clean energy resource is located near many major population centres such as New York, Los Angeles, Washington – Baltimore and Chicago. At present, states bordering the Atlantic, Great Lakes and West Coast are at various stages in developing projects to exploit offshore wind.

According to the EIA, the current development pipeline has some 22,000 MW of projects due to be completed by 2030, and 86,000 MW by 2050. This is despite delays caused by local content regulations, NIMBYS, military and fossil fuel interests, plus the local environmental challenges of locating wind farms in the Great Lakes in waters that freeze during winter or in deep waters of the Pacific Coast.

New Technologies

To handle the problem of the fresh water in the Great Lakes freezing in winter, Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation is proposing to use Icebreaker’s innovative Mono Bucket (MB) as the turbine foundation, to protect turbine towers from ice flows. It plans to build a 6 turbine, 20.7-megawatt offshore wind demonstration project 8 miles from downtown Cleveland in Lake Erie — the first freshwater offshore wind project in North America.

And to tackle the challenge of placing wind farms in the deep waters off California and Hawaii various companies have proposals to use floating wind farms. Amongst the companies involved including Alpha Wind Energy, Equinor, Castle Wind, Trident Winds and German power group EnBW. In one project, Castle Wind has announced plans to build a 1 GW floating wind project in Morro Bay, Central California. The developer is looking to secure a grid connection which became available following the shutdown of the Morro Bay fossil fuel power plant and targets commercial start-up between 2025 and 2027.

Improvements in innovation

In addition, ongoing improvements in turbine technologies and economies of scale are driving down costs. Plus  advances in construction are allowing wind farms to be built in deeper water farther offshore, significantly lessening the public’s concern about seeing turbines close to the coast; states across the Northeast and the mid-Atlantic, as well as California and Hawaii, are pushing development of offshore wind projects; and some European wind turbine manufacturers, as well as several U.S. firms, have decided to locate research, development, and wind turbine production facilities in the U.S.

Energy storage

In order to improve grid security, we are seeing increasing investment throughout the country in various energy storage schemes that include traditional pumped storage hydro to grid-scale battery storage. In fact, more than 60 million Americans in 13 mid-Atlantic states plus the District of Columbia are saving money due to energy storage systems operating in that region.

 Such energy storage schemes are being used to reduce the need for backup peak gas power plants, at the same time as also providing storage capacity for later use. The US added 777 MWh of power storage capacity in 2018. That’s, 80% more than in the preceding year and according to Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables deployment of grid-connected storage in 2019 will increase to 1,681 MWh.

Benefits

It has been estimated by the Clean Energy States Alliance U.S. Job Creation in Offshore Wind report 2017, that the supply chain for building offshore wind farms is expected to create some 36,000 full-time well-paying jobs in the next decade. Land-based wind supports over 114,000 American jobs already and scaling up offshore wind development holds similar promise for U.S. job growth. Because of this, the states in the regions affected, are promoting policies to enjoy the expected economic development benefits of such offshore wind developments.

Economic development

In particular, it is expected the need to set up new coastal production and logistics bases is expected to revive, many depressed coastal communities. The prospect of offshore wind has already attracted private investment such as New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal in Massachusetts and a $35 million MHI Vestas turbine gearbox testing facility at Clemson University.

It is fortunate that the renewables sector can provide new jobs for skilled people employed in sunset industries such as coal mining and oil and gas industries. In fact, employment in solar energy alone, now outnumber jobs in coal mining and the oil and gas industry added together, says a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). IRENA found that the renewable energy sector employs more women than oil, gas, and coal.

Development costs

In addition, the cost of the power produced is likely to continue to fall, due to the scaling up of the industry and a further improvement in innovation and productivity. For instance, in 2018, 1 MW of new offshore wind capacity required €2.5M down from €4.5m in 2015. 1 MW of new onshore wind capacity now requires only €1.4M of capital expenditure, down from €2.0M in 2015, according to WindEurope’s annual Financing and Investment Trends report 2019.

After many delays, America’s first offshore wind project came online in 2016. This was the 30MW Block Island Wind Farm. This New England project has five 6-MW turbines, and it is located off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island.  

Prospects

As for the future, the offshore wind resources of the Atlantic, Pacific and Great Lakes, offers great new economic and employment opportunities for clean and affordable energy for coastal communities. Because of such investment, in offshore wind projects, industry experts expect further demand for various types of grid-scale energy storage in the US continues to expand. It also aids various states clean energy policy efforts to dramatically expand the contribution that renewables provide in meeting their energy needs in compliance with the Paris Accords.

In addition, it will help revive regional industrial capacity and employment opportunities in manufacturing and shipbuilding.

At present there are 12 active commercial leases for offshore wind development in the U.S. If all leases are completed, such offshore projects have a 15 GW generating capacity.

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