United States plays catch-up in the drive for offshore wind

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 30 Sep 2016 12:53
US offshore wind industry gears up for a strong future
US offshore wind industry gears up for a strong future

The US Energy Department has released a new report showing strong progress for the nation’s offshore wind market—including the start of construction of the nation’s first commercial-scale offshore wind farm, one of 21 projects totalling 15,650 megawatts (MW) in the planning and development pipeline.

Of these 21 US projects, 13 projects totalling nearly 6,000 MW—enough to power 1.8 million homes—are in the more advanced stages of development, while 12 projects with more than 3,300 MW planned have announced a commercial operation date by 2020. With 80% of the nation’s electricity demand coming from coastal states, offshore wind could play a crucial role in meeting the country’s energy needs.

The 2014–2016 U.S. Offshore Wind Technologies Market Report was prepared for the Energy Department by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and builds on the success and utility of the Energy Department’s annual Wind Technologies Market Report and Distributed Wind Market Report, which provide stakeholders with reliable and consistent data sources for their respective markets.

American developer Deepwater Wind—leveraging 25 years of European technical knowledge, as well as U.S. manufacturing and installation expertise—began construction of the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island this spring. The 30-MW project is expected to be operational by fall 2017. In addition to Rhode Island, offshore wind projects in eight other states are also in the advanced stages of development.

The 2014-2016 US Offshore Wind Technologies Market Report finds that offshore wind projects continue to trend farther from shore and into increasingly deeper waters. Continuing to increase in size, the average offshore wind turbine installed in 2014 had a 377-foot-diameter rotor on a 279-foot-tall tower. The average capacity of offshore wind turbines installed in 2014 was 3.4 MW (compared with 1.9 MW for land-based turbines).

Last year also marked the first deployment of an 8-MW prototype, and a number of turbines rated between 6 MW and 8 MW have been ordered for pending projects. By siting projects farther from shore where they can access stronger, more consistent winds, combined with technology improvements and larger turbines, developers have increased their turbines’ capacity factors, meaning each wind turbine can generate more energy.

The study’s authors expect this year to become a record year for global offshore wind deployments, with 3,996 MW of capacity on track to begin operations. In the first half of 2016, the industry commissioned 1,190 MW of this capacity, bringing the total current installed capacity to 8,990 MW worldwide.

The analysis was published as a fresh report warned the US was in danger of falling behind on offshore wind power.

The study prepared by the University of Delaware faculty from the College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE), the College of Engineering and the Alfred Lerner School of Business and Economics warns the US is further from commercial-scale offshore wind deployment today than it was in 2005.

"As we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005, it is disheartening to see that while land-based wind and solar have reached new heights, U.S. offshore wind has remained a missed opportunity," says the paper's lead author, Jeremy Firestone, who is a professor in CEOE's School of Marine Science and Policy and directs CCPI.

Collectively, Firestone and his UD colleagues have decades of experience in offshore wind power research, teaching and policy advice.

Firestone contends that regulatory, tax and finance policy and planning changes, as well as a refocused research effort, are required to advance U.S. offshore wind development.

Offshore wind development, he says, is currently predicated on a model originally developed for offshore oil. But while offshore oil can be sold to refineries throughout the US and its price is influenced by global markets, electricity from renewable energy such as offshore wind is tied to local markets and is part of a regional grid system.

"Electricity markets are different than oil and gas, it's like trying to put a square peg in a round hole," says Firestone.

Tax policy and financial incentives, including long-term tax credits for implementation, he continues, are important with projects like offshore wind, which are very capital intensive, as are loan guarantees.

Offshore wind power has tremendous potential to help the U.S. reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. By displacing coal and natural gas, offshore wind will reduce health costs and contribute to improved air quality and reduced climatic impacts.

Other motivations for offshore wind development include creating local manufacturing and other jobs, reducing common air pollutants, providing energy security and price stability, and improving US economic competitiveness.

To help overcome current barriers to offshore wind implementation, the UD professors also advocate that research focus on impediments specific to the US.

"Given that research dollars are limited, it is important to target those funds to areas that will result the greatest value-added to the United States," Firestone says.

For example, the United States experiences more extreme wind and wave loading due to hurricanes and nor'easters, as well as icing in the Great Lakes areas, creating U.S.-specific research opportunities.

Similarly, research aimed at better understanding the wind regime specific to the Atlantic Ocean's Mid-Atlantic Bight -- how windy it is and where -- will provide important information about how much power can be generated in different segments of the ocean, which in turn affects prices that people would have to pay.

Social and cultural concerns of coastal residents also can impede offshore wind power development progress.

"Individuals often have deep and meaningful experiences with the ocean and long-standing ties to coastal communities, and as a result, may be resistant to changes to the coastal landscape. Attention also should be devoted to research that seeks to understand these social and cultural barriers to change," Firestone notes.

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