In the US, Offshore Wind Finally Breezing up

January 18, 2018


As usual in the renewable space, prices have been dropping unexpectedly rapidly for offshore wind in Europe, and that means unsubsidized offshore wind is becoming a reality.
The potential US offshore wind resource is vast..and it appears that even the Trump administration is enthusiastically supporting development.

Yale Environment 360:

This summer, the Norwegian energy company, Statoil, will send a vessel to survey a triangular slice of federal waters about 15 miles south of Long Island, where the company is planning to construct a wind farm that could generate up to 1.5 gigawatts of electricity for New York City and Long Island — enough to power roughly 1 million homes. Construction on the “Empire Wind” project, with scores of wind turbines generating electricity across 79,000 acres of leased federal waters, is scheduled to begin in 2023, with construction completed in 2025.

Farther south, 27 miles off the coast of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Avangrid Renewables, an Oregon-based company, has already begun planning for a major wind energy farm on 122,000 acres of federal waters, a project that could eventually generate 1.5 gigawatts of electricity.

And about 10 miles off the New Jersey coast, between Atlantic City and Cape May, Danish clean-energy giant Ørsted, which has a large portfolio of offshore wind farms across Europe, is talking with local officials, securing state permits, and doing seafloor surveys on a 160,000-acre site, where it plans to build its 1–gigawatt Ocean Wind project. Company officials say they are hopeful that the wind farm will come online between 2020 and 2025.

After years of false starts and delays, the offshore wind industry in the United States finally seems to be gaining some momentum. Although far behind the burgeoning offshore wind energy industry in Europe, companies such as Statoil, Avangrid, and Ørsted are joining other wind energy developers — both from the U.S. and Europe— to pursue a slate of projects along the U.S. coast.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 25 offshore wind projects with a generating capacity of 24 gigawatts are now being planned, mainly off the U.S. Northeast and mid-Atlantic coasts. And although some of these projects may not be built, and only one commercial offshore wind farm has actually been constructed —the tiny, five-turbine “Block Island Wind”project off Rhode Island — analysts say that U.S. offshore wind is expected to enjoy significant growth in the coming decade.


Breezing Up by Winslow Homer

“The real nuts-and-bolts of making this industry happen are going to come together in 2018,” says Stephanie McClellan, director of the University of Delaware’s Special Initiative on Offshore Wind.

Several key factors are driving the long-awaited takeoff of U.S. offshore wind: Sophisticated turbine technologies and economies of scale are driving down costs; 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.

And to the surprise of some companies and renewable energy analysts, the Trump administration — which has aggressively promoted the development of fossil fuels over renewable energy — seems to be supporting the offshore wind energy sector.


After the 2016 presidential election there was some uncertainty on how offshore wind project would fare with the federal government, given President Trump’s ambiguous personal attitudes. In public speeches Trump had been critical of wind power, calling it unreliable and a killer of birds. In his own business career, Trump unsuccessfully strove to block an offshore wind project near one of his golf courses in Scotland.

As Congress assembled it tax bill in late 2017, it appeared the wind industry’s political adversaries were on the verge of killing its vital tax credits. But wind developers escaped that threat, not least because inland wind power generation is a major business and employer in Republican-leaning states like Texas and Iowa.

Wind power critics had hoped the Trump administration, with its close ties to the oil and coal industries, would be hostile to wind developers. But that has not turned out to be the case. At the 2017 International WorkBoat Show in New Orleans, Walter Cruickshank, BOEM’s acting director, made it clear that the Trump administration in some ways is following the Obama administration’s policy of “all of the above” when it comes to offshore energy development.

“The Outer Continental Shelf’s offshore wind potential is a tremendous asset and part of the administration’s ‘America First Energy Plan’ to make it easier for industry to do business here.” Zinke said in his announcement Friday. “And, now more than ever, we must use every tool at our disposal to ensure an energy-secure future – one that promotes jobs and is affordable, competitive and safe. Offshore wind will play a big role in this future.”

BOEM will also apply the administration’s attitude of streamlining review and permitting processes to wind projects, like other infrastructure work, Interior officials said. Using the design envelope approach would allow BOEM to analyze the environmental impacts of the proposed project in a manner that could reduce or eliminate the need for subsequent environmental and technical reviews without sacrificing appropriate environmental safeguards,” according to the agency.

Green Tech Media:

Costs began tumbling in 2015, when the industry boasted of a then-record-low cost of $111 per megawatt-hour at Denmark’s Horns Rev 3 wind farm. Just 18 months later, Borssele 3 and 4 in the Netherlands was priced at $61.23 per megawatt-hour.

As GTM’s Jeff St. John reported, McKinsey has reached similar conclusions about offshore wind — fast growth, increased investment, bigger wind farms, falling costs and new technologies are driving new project bids to record lows in Europe. McKinsey cites a recent bid in the Netherlands at $61.10 per megawatt-hour and a winning Danish bid of $55.94 per megawatt-hour.

St. John adds: “In a German auction in April, the average winning bid for the projects was far below expectations, with some bids coming in at the wholesale electricity price — meaning no subsidy is required.”

The technological advances are happening within the turbine itself, as well as with innovative foundation designs.

GTM’s Stephen Lacey reports that Vestas just released a 9.5-megawatt offshore turbine that is “two to three times bigger than the standard turbines from only a few years ago.” McKinsey predicts that 13- to 15-megawatt models could hit the market by 2024. Germany’s Senvion has plans for a 10-megawatt offshore wind turbine, according to WindPower Monthly, which notes that researchers are toying with the idea of 50-megawatt capacity turbines.

McKinsey notes: “This reduces the cost per megawatt. Even as turbines have become larger, they have also become better. In the 1990s, the expected lifetime of offshore wind parks was only 15 years; now it is closer to 25 years, and new sites project an operational lifetime of 30 years.”


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