Offshore Wind is Rockin’a Hard Place
August 31, 2016
Putting windmills offshore, where the wind is stronger and more reliable than on land, could theoretically provide about four times the amount of electricity as is generated on the American grid today from all sources. This resource could be readily accessible to areas on the coasts, where 53 percent of Americans live.
This technology is already used extensively in Britain, Denmark, Germany and other European countries, which have in the last 15 years invested billions of dollars in offshore wind farms in the North, Baltic and Irish Seas. In 2013, offshore wind accounted for 1.5 percent of all electricity used in the European Union, with all wind sources contributing 9.9 percent of electricity. By contrast, wind power made up only 4.7 percent of electricity in the United States last year.
While electricity generated by offshore wind farms is more expensive than land-based turbines, costs have fallen with larger offshore turbines that can generate more electricity. Construction firms have also become more efficient in installing offshore farms.
There are 22 other offshore wind projects in various stages of development across the country, according to a recent report by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Many of them are in the Northeast, including a proposal before the Long Island Power Authority for a wind farm 30 miles off the coast of Montauk that would supply electricity to the Hamptons. The Atlantic coast is a good place to build wind farms because the water is relatively shallow, which makes it cheaper to install the turbine platforms. Pacific coast waters, being much deeper, would require placing turbines on more expensive floating platforms.
A few decades ago, the idea of harnessing the power of ocean winds seemed entirely impractical. In the next 10 years, these offshore farms should become commonplace.
Britain could scrap the 18 billion-pound ($23 billion) nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point and get the same amount of electricity from offshore wind turbines for roughly the same investment.
That’s the assessment of Bloomberg New Energy Finance following Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to review whether to proceed with the first new atomic plant in more than three decades. For the same capital costs, the U.K. could install about 830 new turbines at sea, which would generate 25 terawatt hours a year — the same amount of power the Hinkley reactors would produce, according to the London-based researcher.
The findings add to the debate over whether Electricite de France SA’s proposal makes economic sense. With the cost of offshore wind turbines falling, developers led by Dong Energy A/S of Denmark are promoting renewables as a better way to get energy without the emissions that cause global warming.
“If we had 18 billion to spend today, we could build 5.7 gigawatts of offshore wind – just under double the capacity and generating the same level of power as Hinkley Point,” said Keegan Kruger, analyst for BNEF.
Recently, the Dutch government auctioned the rights for two large wind farms in the North Sea based on the lowest price of energy to which the bidder committed. The winning bid (out of 38 companies, by the way) came in at the equivalent of about $95 per megawatt hour generated, a record low for offshore wind, according to trade industry reports. That was $40 per megawatt hour below the previous low set by a Danish project just last year.
The price is still above the average for other energy sources – in some cases, significantly so. But a growing critical mass, from engineering and design to manufacturing and installation, is narrowing offshore wind’s disadvantage in Europe. Thousands of turbines are spinning at sea there – more than 500 off Denmark alone.
And the U.S.?
Would you believe … five?
Yep, that’s how many are part of the nation’s first project, off Block Island, R.I.
Virginia alone could see as many as 14,000 jobs in the offshore wind energy industry, according to a report earlier this year from a group called the American Jobs Project.
Hagerman said that over time, U.S. factories should be able to manufacture turbines cheaper than in Europe. And the wind resource off the coasts is big. Really big.