A shifting political climate, growing demands for more electricity, and expectations of a post-pandemic economic boom have some experts asking if offshore wind’s moment has finally arrived in the US.
Background: 2020 was a “banner year” for wind energy in the US, and the 10,593 megawatts (MW) of new wind power capacity installed in Q4 alone tops every year except 2012, American Clean Power reports. The catch: Virtually all of it is onshore.
Now the industry is settings its sights on moving offshore:
- Offshore wind could potentially meet 90% of the US’s electricity demand by 2050, Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group found. East Coast states, from Maine to Florida, stand to benefit the most, with a technical potential to produce 4,600 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity a year. That’s the equivalent of 1,150 Hoover Dams.
- It’s not just electricity. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) last year found that a 600 MW project off the coast of Port Arthur, Texas, alone would create more than 4,000 jobs and generate $445 million during the construction phase.
- The timing makes sense. Offshore wind has long been seen as promising but prohibitively expensive. Recent advances in technology, however, are making it economically viable, and because offshore wind has the potential to be digital from Day One, the industry can provide a major boost to the development of autonomous inspection, remote operations, and other data-driven solutions.
The offshore wind drumbeat has to be seen in context with the Biden administration’s proposed $2 trillion spending package, which includes $100 billion for improvements to the power grid. Doubling renewable energy production from offshore wind by 2030 was also part of Biden’s first flurry of executive actions.
The US isn’t the only country where offshore wind is making headlines…
- The Japanese government is considering new undersea cables from offshore wind farms in Hokkaido to Tokyo to get around the issue of limited interconnections between the country’s regional power grids.
- Ørsted last month kicked off construction on the first large-scale offshore wind farms in Taiwan. The 900 MW project will supply electricity to about a million households.
- The Equinor-operated Hywind Scotland in 2020 set a new record for the highest annual average capacity factor for a UK offshore wind farm: 57.1%. (In short, the capacity factor measures actual generation compared to theoretical maximum generation).
What’s driving the development? Wind energy has reached a cost tipping point, Mary Quaney, CEO of Mainstream Renewable Power, explained during this past March’s CERAWeek conference. The cost of electricity from wind fell 70% between 2009-19, thanks in part to better and cheaper materials, smarter use of data, and — yes — bigger turbine blades:
“Renewables have become the ultimate disrupter in the energy industry, just the way the iPhone did with mobile telephony.”
- Mary Quaney, CEO, Mainstream Renewable Power
Thought bubble: The UK’s North Sea neighbor, Norway, has so far been relatively quiet on offshore wind. But with one political party after another coming out against power-from shore plans for offshore oil platforms, public opinion rapidly souring on onshore wind, and the country’s massive sovereign wealth fund making its first moves in the green investment space, could Norway be next to go all in on offshore wind?