Although offshore wind is a very popular source of renewable energy in Europe, China, and elsewhere, it is still rare in the United States. Only two offshore wind facilities exist in the United States, and they are located off Rhode Island and Virginia.
A lack of offshore wind power in America is often attributed to high costs, low support from the federal government and states. New offshore wind projects off California and New York are being planned.
Biden's administration set bold goals to deploy 30 gigawatts offshore wind power by 2030. Only 35 gigawatts had been deployed worldwide last year. The administration has simplified the federal approval process for offshore winds projects, reducing the number permits required to get started.
Erin Baker, an industrial engineer professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says that it is a very ambitious goal. "But, with the price cuts we've seen both in wind and offshore winds--we've experienced about a 50% reduction in offshore wind over six years--I believe it's very possible."
Baker points out that offshore wind projects are approved by seven federal agencies. These include the Department of Energy (Department of Interior), Department of Defense (Department of Defense), and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. It can be very difficult to get approval from each of these agencies individually. The Biden administration has made it clear that they want to make the process easier and provide funding for infrastructure upgrades to support these new energy goals.
As the industry matures, offshore wind costs have dropped and turbines are more efficient. However, there are still many areas for improvement. A recent study by researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), found that increasing the size and efficiency of turbines and plants could reduce a project's total cost per megawatt hour over its life. This is in comparison to the turbines that were installed in 2019. If the federal government pushes for more offshore wind, it could help prices to continue falling if it boosts investor interest and grows the industry.
Matt Shields, an NREL researcher and the head of the study, stated in a release that "we expected to see the cost decrease." "But I was surprised at the magnitude. This is a real game-changer.
Baker said that developers are enthusiastic about the push for new offshore projects. These bids are coming in at a high rate from wind development groups. They have put in over $4 billion of bids. This is three times the amount raised through auctions for offshore oil and natural gas leases. By the end of this decade, offshore wind investments are expected to surpass $100 billion in the US. It will take some time to establish the supply chain for offshore winds. We need people to put these in, we need the right kind of ships to do the installation and we need to plan the transmission. Baker says there are many pieces that need to fit together.
It is easiest to wind up offshore from the East Coast. The Atlantic region has high winds and the ocean continental shelf is very shallow. Traditional, bottom-mounted offshore wind turbines such as those at Block Island Wind Farm will still work.
The Pacific is, however, a completely different story. The Pacific is a different story. Because water depths drop quickly off the Westcoast of California, proposed offshore wind off the coasts of two new California leasing areas will likely be mainly floating offshore wind. This type of wind farm is found off the coast in Scotland. The wind turbine is on a floating platform which is moored at the ocean floor. However, this technology is much more expensive than fixed turbines and has not been used in the US. California has set high goals for clean energy and there is great potential for this technology.
Amanda Lefton, BOEM Director, stated that floating wind could help us reach places previously thought impossible, opening up new possibilities. "We are going to bring it up to scale here in California, starting at the Morro bay and Humboldt Wind Energy Areas. Offshore wind is here for the long-term."
Research has shown that the Gulf of Mexico has enormous potential. It could generate more than 500,000 megawatts of off-shore wind energy annually, which is about twice the energy requirements of the five Gulf States. One fifth of America's offshore wind energy potential could be found in the Great Lakes.
Baker points out that offshore wind has many benefits, including the invisibility and lack of land use. Baker says that she believes the US will be able to not only meet its offshore wind goals, but may even exceed them due to the high level of interest in this industry. According to NREL research, this could mean that offshore farms can be built in areas other than the Northeast.
In a press release, Walt Musial (NREL principal engineer) stated that "looking to the future we expect offshore wind power in the United States will expand beyond the North, Mid-Atlantic, and into the Pacific, Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico." This expansion will bring abundant energy at lower prices, job growth, and progress towards decarbonization.
Although the US has been slow to develop offshore wind development, it could be a very positive step for the country with the right support.