Offshore Wind in the United States
Renewable Energy Resources
Is offshore wind power the next big thing in the United States renewable energy market?
The question arises partly because of the anticipated construction of the country's first offshore wind farm in the Cape Cod area.
Currently, European states, specifically the U.K. and Denmark, lead the world in offshore wind energy planning and production. Recent statistics from the European Wind Energy Association, for example, show that in 2010, offshore wind installation accounted for 9.5% (883 MW of 8,412 MW) of the year's total installed capacity.
Mega-offshore wind projects already under construction, such as the London Array, will continued the upward trajectory of offshore wind's portion of the wind power market.
In February 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Wind and Water Power Program released its long awaited National Offshore Wind Strategy.
The report's big picture goal envisions a series of offshore wind farms, principally along the Atlantic seaboard, having the ability to produce, "54 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity by 2030, at a cost of energy of $0.07 per kilowatt-hour (kWh)". For the sake of comparison, the amount of electricity generating capacity is larger than the combined electricity generating capacity of Japan's 54 nuclear reactors, which prior to the country's current problems, had a generating capacity in the 49 gigawatt range.
Getting from here to there, the report's authors argue, is a matter of proper planning and execution.
While offshore wind farms offer enormous electricity generation potential, an array of technological, environmental, and policy coordination issues confront offshore wind proponents.
On the technology side, land based wind turbine development has dominated the design field. To be successful, the experts suggest that the next generation of offshore wind turbines need to be both larger and capable of withstanding a salt water environment than land based turbines.
Currently developers have their sites set on 10MW wind turbines, with blades approaching football field length.
Developing adequate transmission lines from the sea to the shore represents another technological challenge.
Large scale construction in the ocean also poses environmental challenges. There's a high degree of uncertainty surrounding the issue of how small benthic creatures that claim the ocean floor as home, to larger ocean dwelling animals such as whales, might react to large changes in their environment.
On the people side, coordinating an offshore wind policy with a developing national ocean policy that also meets transportation, recreation and fisheries needs, must be taken into consideration.
Policy coordination also means finding ways for state and federal government agencies to work together. Report notes that the Department of Interior reached an agreement with states to form an Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium, in order to help the wheels of government move more smoothly.
The path to a more secure energy future for the United States will no doubt take a turn to the seas. The suggestions offered by the National Offshore Wind Strategy remind us that while offshore wind projects will be big thing, it's not necessarily right around the corner.
Related Resources: More: Readers with thirty three minutes (start at the 5 minute mark) might want to check out Chris Hart's webinar presentation of the proposal, complete with charts and graphs.
Hart speaks very quickly, indicating he knows his stuff forward, backward and sleeping. The language of wind power can be confusing for the novice, so watching the webinar twice might help.
© 2011. Patricia A. Michaels