Environment

The U.S. dips a toe in the offshore windfarm water

The U.S. dips a toe in the off...
The potential of offshore wind power is enormous, but the USA is late to the party
The potential of offshore wind power is enormous, but the USA is late to the party
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The potential of offshore wind power is enormous, but the USA is late to the party
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The potential of offshore wind power is enormous, but the USA is late to the party

Offshore wind farms have been creating electricity off the coastof Denmark since 1991 and England, Germany and other countries onmainland Europe have followed suit, as have China, South Korea and Japan. It's a different story in the US, where until recently there were no offshore wind farms in operation or even under construction. That changed recently with the start of construction of a small wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

The 30 megawatt, 5 turbine Block Island Wind Farm project in Rhode Island is scheduled to go online next year, producing enough electricity to power 17,000 homes. It joins a list of similar US projects currently in various stages of proposal, review, and approval, mostly off the East Coast, and one recently proposed for Morro Bay off the Central Coast of California.

The largest offshore wind farm in the world is off the coast of Cumbria in the UK and canproduce a claimed 367.2 MW of electricity or enough topower 322,000 homes.

The reasons for the lag by the US vary, but can roughly be attributed to the high cost of construction,changing regulations, and personal lobbying. Perhaps the best known example of the latter is billionaire Bill Koch's fight to stop the Cape Wind project near Cape Cod, which has now been stalled.

What makes offshore wind farmsattractive is that there’s always an ocean breeze. Unlike onshorewind farms where wind can be inconsistent, especially in the summermonths when weather can be fairly static depending on the region.That means offshore wind farms have the potential to create moreenergy per turbine than their onshore counterparts. According to theUS Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), a turbine at a sitewith an average wind speed of 16 mph would produce 50 percent moreelectricity than at a site with average windspeeds of 14 mph.

Off shore wind power has enormous potential. TheNational Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates a gross windpotential of 4,223 gigawatts (GW) off the coast of the United States alone – roughly four times the generating capacity of the entire US electric grid. One GW of wind power can supply between 225,000to 300,000 average homes in one year.

While onshore wind farms have proved viable with Iowa, for example,getting 28 percent of its energy from onshore wind farms alone, they’venot been without their detractors. Noise pollution, the death ofpredatory birds like hawks and eagles, and the negative impact on theland during construction are among the issues raised by their opponents. Most of these concerns go away when it comes to offshore wind farms. The further away from shorethey’re constructed, the less noise pollution is created, the fewerbirds affected, and the less the environment is impacted.

But there’s a catch … at least as faras the US is concerned. The Atlantic shelf off the east coast ofthe U.S. is shallower than that of the Pacific. So it’s easier toanchor windmills into the Atlantic shelf floor. The Pacific Oceanshelf, on the other hand, drops off fairly quickly away from shore,so wind turbines off the West Coast of the US have to float. Thisis why there’s more activity on the East Coast right now, and whythe recent announcement of a possible wind farm off the coast ofCalifornia was considered significant.

Whether an offshore turbine is anchoredor floats, it technically works the same way as it does onshore.What’s different is that offshore turbines need to be constructedto more efficiently take advantage of the steadier winds and theharsher marine environment. That means the towers are taller, therotor diameters are longer, and an assortment of modifications to thetower and base structure need to be made to handle the forces ofwaves and ice flows – all of which add to the cost of construction.

Many industry experts and governmentofficials say that the potential for increased energy productioninherent in offshore wind farms would offset those costs. This argument, which appears to have held up in other parts of the world, is about to be tested in the US.

Watch this space.

9 comments
Carl-ÅkeUtterström
In Sweden re onshore windturbines do only have a 6 percent output in average re installed Power. A 3 MW windturbin do have in average an output of 180 kWh. That means an average i ncome of 180 SEK. For to deicing the wind turbines a proposal is to use helicopters a completely imbecill idea. Each deicing procedure will take 1.5 hours to perform for each windturbine. Costs for hireing a helicopter and transport time to and from will be sextremely higher than the income. A Windturbine have to be stop at a velocity of 20 metre pro second otherwise it will be damaged. In Denmark Windturbisnes crack their wings, the generator house together with gearbox house fell off the towwer as effect of unbalance and finally the Tower cracked. Off shore windturbines miles out in ocean have many hours transporttime to be reached for service etc. A lot of Carbone oxide exhaust. What about typhons etc frequently genereated around United States and Heavy winds frequently blowing inrto the country. As I see it the on shore windturbinmes in Sweden with great subventions is a large mistake. We generate additional electri Power not needed. Better to invest in developing in nuclear Power. The windturbines press the Electric energy costs so the nuclear Power make no profit. We have effect Power tax charging the nuclear and subvention for wind Power. That´s is we pay a lot of Money for the unefficient wind Power and charge the efficient, environmently friendly nuclear Power. A indeed huge mistake. In Sweden off shore windpower is even more ineffective and costly. Don´t let investment in windpower become realised for relegius reason but do an bojective analyse wether rhias is the best way to take. I am not conviced
Freyr Gunnar
> The largest offshore wind farm in the world is off the coast of Cumbria in the UK and can produce a claimed 367.2 MW of electricity W = power. Wh = energy. > or enough to power 322,000 homes. … most likely without heating. This is probably just to power lights. Besides, 1. Wind and sun are intermittent, so require gas-powered power plants: Natural gas is a fossil fuel so can't be used anymore, and Europe has very little natgas, and considering the political situation in Ukraine and Algeria, it's not a very good idea to make ourselves more dependent on imported energy 2. Wind turbines and solar panels don't grow on trees: They require rare minerals, which themselves require oil to be dug and transported The reality, is that there's no silver bullet: We *are* going back to the Middle Ages. The house insolation of the future? The sweater. The electric car of the future? The bicycle.
JMB100
Aaron, Excellent piece on offshore wind farms. Rhode Island entered the game late, yet despite numerous states attempting to construct an offshore wind farm, some for as long as a decade, Rhode Island permitted its wind farm in a few short years, because of an innovate environmental permitting process that was fully compliant with the Coastal Zone Management Act and its regulations. Rhode Island quite literally zoned the oceans to facilitate this wind farm. Rhode Island has been held up as a blueprint for how other states could accomplish the same thing, and Oregon has done so with an offshore wave energy facility. I have written a book published by the American Bar Association which details how this was done in Rhode Island, and the status of ocean zoning here and in Europe. Zoning the Oceans The Next Big Step in Coastal Zone Management. It is available on Amazon. Again, excellent article! All best John
JGTinNJ
A hundred years from now there will be predictions that the historic and continuing removal of energy from winds is contributing to a speeding up of the Earth's rotation with dire consequences for all mankind and the planet itself. Or maybe the Earth will be slowing down. How about the pollination that doesn't take place if winds are less strong? Whales will not be able to tolerate the wind machines any more than people can. But if the Europeans are doing it, hey, we don't want to be late to the party.
greenace92
The turbines should submerge underwater when a storm happens.
Art_Toegemann
Glad to hear from other nations with experience. I live in Rhode Island, I have close friends involved with this project but I still say go solar. Solar is independent and it can be "net metered": it does both without being dependent on a corporate monster beyond a small grid fee. Storage is a third function. It is easier to install and maintain than wind: it has fewer moving parts. The transmission lines can be and frequently are closer to the users. The sun rises every day, even in the rain. In spite of all these advantages, RI is slow to take advantage of them. Leery of new tech? I've come to think of turbines as hypnotic pinwheels. Not mentioned in the article is that this project of 5 turbines has an initial cost of a half billion dollars, US. How many solar panels can 500 million dollars buy?
S Michael
This so stupid of an idea. I, like my fellow poster, see the dangers and pit-falls in large wind and solar farms for power. So I guess I should be put in prison according to some of the scientists for being a climate denier and I'm not for alternative energy to "save" the planet. Fact is I do believe in wind and solar for energy. But on a "individual" scale. I want to be able produce my own power for my home and family, something the "Big energy" wind and solar farm people don't want. They want to control how much to charge for energy, and forever citing "maintenance" cost as the reason to increase prices. Here is a clue for the "green weeneys" who buy in to this idea that so called wind farms will make energy cheaper. 1. The developers of these wind farms are not doing it to make your energy cheaper and make you happier. They are doing it for profit. 2. You "green weeneys - environmentalist" fall for the same old lie that carbon reduction will be achieved by alternative energy and the elimination of coal and gas is the only thing that will save the earth. Here is the true.. for every coal and gas plant we shut down, China and India open ten more. We haven't perished yet. 3. The environmentalist hitched their wagon to the "progressive, liberal" agenda and mantra of "man has and is causing climate change" a dishonest lie. 4. What the environmentalist should have done was to align themselves with the conservatives and stressed individual freedom, independence, and security. Individual home owners making power for their own use, would maintain the wind or solar plants themselves. Once in place the cost of power becomes mute. Improvements and maintenance is on the home owner not on the back of the taxpayer. I find it ironic that a related article on GIZMAG is that the Japanese banks are going to fund U.S. offshore wind farms. Now are these Japanese banks doing this because the love us. No. Maybe they are doing this to reduce carbon footprint... No. Maybe because they want you to have cheaper and cleaner energy. No. They see an on going, ever increasing profit flow to their banks. Stupid is, what stupid does.
Daishi
@S Michael Some people are open to having their mind changed, others not so much. Take a look at Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) in the united states for a point of reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cost_of_electricity_by_source&redirect=no#United_States Onshore wind is already cheap or cheaper than coal. It's one of the cheapest methods to produce energy in the country. GE is one of the largest manufacturers but Siemens leads in offshore turbines. Offshore turbines are still expensive by comparison but there is one point I want to emphasize it's that turbines MUST be built at scale to be efficient. Small household or microturbines are completely garbage. $8,000 microturbines often produce far less electricity than a $300 solar panel even before you calculate higher maintenance costs for them. Household vs grid turbines are simply not comparable technology, one of them is cheaper than coal and the other is junk science meant to scam people that don't know better out of money. Intel recently installed 58 JLM Zefr turbines on their HQ, take a look at the specs of it here: http://www.jlmenergyinc.com/zefr The price is probably neary $10k each installed and even the manufacturer lists them at just 240 watts at 2 MPh. At the actual average wind speed in Santa Clara of 9 MPH they produce essentially nothing in electricity. The $500,000 to $600,000 wind farm on Intel's roof likely produces less actual electricity than they would get from $1,000 in solar panels. With solar grid vs household panels are pretty much the same thing which is why for a small business or household solar is a better choice than wind turbines by about 3 orders of magnitude. This should shed some light on at least one of your points on grid vs locally produced energy. This is an option for solar but not with wind. I don't want to give the wrong impression of wind power though. Onshore wind farms are a very clean and efficient method to generate electricity and the jury is still out on getting offshore costs down further. As for being a "greenie" I am mostly independent but even if you ignore global warming there is a national security argument to be made for reduced dependency on fossil fuels. Also nobody is denying pollution. Have you seen info on the air quality in Shanghai or Beijing? People literally wear masks to go outside in it.
BZD
@S Michael. To the four points you're listing. 1. Same goes for everybody else regardless if it's the guy selling you a burger or the people building nuclear or fossil based power plants. 2. Coal plants will open elsewhere regardless if the US plants are closed or not. Besides China is actually starting to consider the environment. 3.Just because you don't like the thought that man is impacting climate is a fact. We can keep going full speed ahead and pretend it doesn't matter or that is too late to do something about it, but for the generations to come doing so is egotistical at best and most likely it is disastrous. 4.Individual power is all well and good, but most people do not live where they can do that. Besides there is an economy of scale and while big wind turbines cost real money that amount is less per watt than the small ones. Currently the biggest turbine is the 8 MW Vestas 164 and bigger ones are coming, if making those wasn't cost effective it would not be happening because of course the wind turbine makers are also in it for the money and record big alone does not sell turbines.