The floating offshore wind farm, America’s secret weapon

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The IPCC’s latest report on climate change paints a chilling picture, but it also says it’s time for rapid decarbonization to make a difference. For the United States, that means tapping into massive new energy resources that have been dormant all these years. Floating offshore wind power is one such area, and it finally seems to be waking up from its sleep.

U.S. offshore wind has barely budged in years

At first glance, any type of offshore wind power in the United States would appear to be a no-beginner. Although the conditions for the development of offshore wind are ideal along most of the Atlantic coast, the United States is far behind the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and other countries.

The offshore wind market began to accelerate elsewhere in the world under the Obama administration. Unfortunately, the federal government’s efforts to coordinate the development of wind power on the Atlantic coast in the United States have been hampered by lawmakers and governors in several Atlantic coast states, apparently linked to the influence of the Koch family. A member of the Koch family also helped delay the Cape Wind project in Massachusetts, which is said to have been the country’s first offshore wind farm.

Cape Wind was eventually scrapped, as was another early project, The energy of fishermen in New Jersey. The only one to survive the early years was the Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island.

Block Island is still the only operating commercial wind farm in the country. With five turbines and a capacity of 30 megawatts, it pales in comparison to other projects in the world, such as Turbine 174, the Hornsea 1.2 gigawatt wind farm in the North Sea. The first 50 Hornsea turbines entered service in 2019.

Another project in the North Sea, the three-phase Dogger Bank wind farm, will have a capacity of 3.6 gigawatts when fully constructed.

A secret weapon in the offshore wind race

The United States seems to have been sleepwalking through all of this activity, but appearances can be deceptive.

A key milestone occurred under the Bush administration, when Congress passed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The new law established the Outer Continental Shelf Renewable Energy Program, which laid the foundation for coordination rental of federal offshore areas. The Interior Ministry’s Office of Ocean Energy Management finalized the rental process in 2009.

Republican office holders tied the hands of the Obama administration for the eight years since 2009, but oddly enough, the Trump administration helped break the deadlock. Despite the former president well-known distaste for wind turbines, BOEM continued to lease federal wind farms at a sustained pace throughout his first and only term.

By the time President Biden was inaugurated, the stage was set for a wave of activity along the Atlantic coast.

NBC-TV recently released the numbers and counted 17 different offshore wind farms in the Atlantic Coast pipeline, totaling 1,500 wind turbines.

All of these wind farms have a secret weapon up their sleeve. Wind turbines today are more powerful and efficient than the technology of just a few years ago, helping to lower the cost of offshore wind energy. Streamlined construction methods and a mature supply chain also give today’s offshore wind projects a cost advantage over those built in previous years.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) notes that offshore wind is still relatively expensive compared to onshore projects, but costs have declined rapidly since 2014 and further significant drops are expected.

The floating offshore wind farm, the other secret weapon

Until now, offshore wind activity in the United States has been concentrated only along the Atlantic coast, where relatively shallow waters allow the construction of conventional fixed-platform wind turbines.

For deeper and more difficult waters, floating wind platforms are needed. Floating wind technology is relatively new, but it is already emerging in the commercial market and investors are already targeting the United States

As with Atlantic offshore wind development, foreign investors are the driving force behind the US floating wind turbine market. It is the unfortunate reward of years of obstruction and uncertainty favored primarily by Republican office holders. It’s also somewhat ironic, given that the U.S. Department of Energy was an early supporter of efforts to improve floating wind technology.

Yet foreign investors can stimulate significant local economic activity in the United States. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released the figures in June and calculated $ 12 billion per year in capital investment in the United States will occur in the coming years due to the development of offshore wind.

ireland Simply Blue Group is among those targeting the United States for investment. In total, the company already has a 9 gigawatt pipeline of floating offshore turbine projects to its credit. Now he’s watching the US floating offshore wind market, which he calculates at 30 gigawatts.

Much of the opportunity lies along the Pacific coast, along with other areas including parts of the Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes.

Simply Blue notes that 80 percent of the US population lives in coastal communities. The land for solar and wind farms is limited in these areas, making the development of offshore wind all the more imperative. Offshore wind resources can also help alleviate the need for major new transmission lines onshore. Floating wind turbines provide the added benefit of remote sites that reduce or eliminate visual clutter from the shore.

Although floating offshore wind technology is currently more expensive than fixed platform technology, costs are already coming down and further decreases are expected.

Regarding the climate crisis, the US Department of Energy estimates that a global total of 2,000 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity is within reach in domestic waters using current technology. That’s about double the country’s current electricity consumption, meaning there is ample room to electrify vehicles, buildings and factories.

The means to decarbonise the American economy are already within reach. The only element missing is the political will to make the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy as quickly as possible.

So far, the bulk of the work on climate action has been done by the Democrats in office. A shift in the political winds is long overdue, but with the economic consequences of inaction already looming, now is the time for swift and unified action by all lawmakers in Congress and in State Chambers. Across the country.

Image credit: Nicholas Doherty / Unsplash

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