Quantcast

Offshore Wind Development Picking Up Pace

Energy

Earth Policy Institute

by J. Matthew Roney

Wind power is the world’s leading source of renewable electricity, excluding hydropower, with 238,000 megawatts of capacity installed at the start of 2012. Thus far, almost all of this wind power has been tapped on land; worldwide just 4,600 megawatts of offshore wind farms were operating as of mid-2012. Offshore wind capacity is growing quickly, however, expanding nearly six-fold since 2006. Twelve countries now have wind turbines spinning offshore, and more will be joining them to take advantage of the powerful winds blowing over the oceans.

 

More than 90 percent of offshore wind installations are in Europe. Denmark erected the world’s first offshore wind farm in 1991—the 5-megawatt Vindeby project. Offshore wind grew sporadically through the 1990s, as Sweden and the Netherlands also added capacity. Denmark added 400 megawatts of offshore capacity from 2001 to 2003. Since then, however, despite several other countries joining in, the United Kingdom has totally dominated the market. Of the 520 megawatts of new offshore wind capacity installed in Europe in the first half of 2012, roughly 80 percent was in the Irish Sea and North Sea waters of the United Kingdom. The rest was built by Belgium, Germany, and Denmark. (See data.)

By the end of June 2012, the United Kingdom had 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind, over half of the world total. And the country hosts the world’s largest operational offshore wind farm, the Greater Gabbard project in the North Sea. All but 11 of its 504 megawatts were installed and connected to the grid by mid-2012. The United Kingdom also has the largest offshore wind farm under construction: close to one third of the London Array’s 630-megawatt first phase was installed by early May 2012. If approved, Phase Two would bring the project total to 1,000 megawatts.

Outside Europe, only China and Japan have operational offshore wind farms. Although its first offshore project was not installed until 2010, China already ranks fourth behind the United Kingdom, Denmark and Belgium, with 260 megawatts. The government’s goal is 30,000 megawatts of offshore capacity by 2020. This could generate the equivalent of roughly one fifth of China’s current residential electricity consumption.

Japan, with just 25 megawatts of offshore wind power capacity, is developing a pilot 16-megawatt floating wind farm project off the coast of Fukushima. Elsewhere in East Asia, South Korea also has big plans for offshore wind, targeting 2,500 megawatts by 2019.

While the U.S. trails only China in land-based wind generating capacity, it has yet to install a single offshore turbine. For more than a decade, the developers of Cape Wind—a proposed 470-megawatt project off the coast of Massachusetts—have been obtaining permits and fending off legal challenges from groups opposed to the project. As of August 2012, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was again reviewing Cape Wind to determine whether its turbines could have an adverse effect on aircraft radar systems. (The FAA affirmed multiple times during both the Bush and Obama administrations that the project would be safe, only to have its determinations appealed by project opponents). Even so, developers still aim to begin construction in 2013.

Two other proposed projects off the U.S. East Coast slated to begin construction in 2013 are also vying to become the country’s first offshore wind farm. In July 2012, offshore developer Fishermen’s Energy received the final permit needed to begin construction of a 25-megawatt wind farm off Atlantic City, New Jersey. And in Rhode Island’s waters, the firm Deepwater Wind’s 30-megawatt wind farm would meet much of nearby Block Island’s electricity needs. Deepwater Wind has also proposed three 1,000-megawatt offshore wind complexes that would serve the New England and Mid-Atlantic regions, but these are still in the early planning stages.

Part of what has thus far stymied offshore wind in the United States is concern about the aesthetic impact of turbines visible from shore. With its Smart from the Start leasing program, the federal government’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hopes to avoid that controversy: the 2,400 square miles set to be auctioned off for wind development later in 2012 are located at least 10 miles from shore, on the Outer Continental Shelf off the East Coast. Smart from the Start also looks to proactively address other common concerns about wind power through careful siting to minimize effects on migratory birds, marine species and archaeological sites.

One project that would facilitate wind development far from shore is the Atlantic Wind Connection, a proposed offshore “transmission backbone” of highly efficient underwater high voltage direct current cables financed by Google, Marubeni, and other investors. Stretching some 300 miles from New York to Virginia, this venture could connect some 7,000 megawatts of offshore wind to the Mid-Atlantic’s population centers. In mid-2012 the project entered the environmental review stage of obtaining a federal right-of-way. Complete construction would take approximately 10 years.

In contrast to the Pacific Coast’s steep drop-off, the U.S. East Coast enjoys a wide, shallow expanse of continental shelf that is especially favorable for offshore wind development. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that wind turbines installed in the shallow waters of the Mid-Atlantic region could add up to nearly 300,000 megawatts of capacity—enough to power 90 million U.S. homes. For the entire Atlantic Coast, including deeper waters, the resource is estimated at 1 million megawatts.

Nine of the top 10 carbon dioxide emitting countries in 2010 have more than enough offshore wind energy potential to meet all their current electricity needs. (The one that does not is Iran). Russia’s offshore wind resources, for example, exceed its current electricity demand by a factor of 23. Canada’s current electricity needs could be met 36 times over with domestic offshore wind energy.

In addition to the twelve countries with operational offshore wind farms, some 20 others, including Australia, Brazil, and India, have offshore projects in at least the planning stage. In the near term, however, the current leaders in offshore wind are expected to remain the principal sites for deployment. The International Energy Agency projects that even with tight supplies of undersea transmission cables and construction vessels causing some delays in development, offshore wind power will grow nearly six-fold to 26,000 megawatts by 2017. China, the United Kingdom and Germany are expected to account for more than 70 percent of the new installations. As interest grows and technology advances, offshore wind appears headed for a prominent position in the world’s renewable energy mix.

Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Milk made from almonds, oats and coconut are among the healthiest alternatives to cow's milk. triocean / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Dairy aisles have exploded with milk and milk alternative options over the past few years, and choosing the healthiest milk isn't just about the fat content.

Whether you're looking beyond cow's milk for health reasons or dietary preferences or simply want to experiment with different options, you may wonder which type of milk is healthiest for you.

Read More Show Less
Greta Thunberg stands aboard the catamaran La Vagabonde as she sets sail to Europe in Hampton, Virginia, on Nov. 13. NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP via Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the teenage climate activist whose weekly school strikes have spurred global demonstrations, has cut short her tour of the Americas and set sail for Europe to attend COP25 in Madrid next month, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The Lake Delhi Dam in Iowa failed in 2010. VCU Capital News Service / Josh deBerge / FEMA

At least 1,688 dams across the U.S. are in such a hazardous condition that, if they fail, could force life-threatening floods on nearby homes, businesses, infrastructure or entire communities, according to an in-depth analysis of public records conducted by the the Associated Press.

Read More Show Less

By Sabrina Kessler

Far-reaching allegations about how a climate-sinning American multinational could shamelessly lie to the public about its wrongdoing mobilized a small group of New York students on a cold November morning. They stood in front of New York's Supreme Court last week to follow the unprecedented lawsuit against ExxonMobil.

Read More Show Less

By Alex Robinson

Leah Garcés used to hate poultry farmers.

The animal rights activist, who opposes factory farming, had an adversarial relationship with chicken farmers until around five years ago, when she sat down to listen to one. She met a poultry farmer called Craig Watts in rural North Carolina and learned that the problems stemming from factory farming extended beyond animal cruelty.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
People navigate snow-covered sidewalks in the Humboldt Park neighborhood on Nov. 11 in Chicago. Scott Olson / Getty Images

Temperatures plunged rapidly across the U.S. this week and around 70 percent of the population is expected to experience temperatures around freezing Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
A general view of the flooded St. Mark's Square after an exceptional overnight "Alta Acqua" high tide water level, on Nov. 13 in Venice. MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP / Getty Images

Two people have died as Venice has been inundated by the worst flooding it has seen in more than 50 years, The Guardian reported Wednesday.

Read More Show Less
Supply boats beside Aberdeen Wind Farm on Aug. 4, 2018. Rab / CC BY 2.0

President Donald Trump doesn't like wind turbines.

In April, he claimed they caused cancer, and he sued to stop an offshore wind farm that was scheduled to go up near land he had purchased for a golf course in Aberdeenshire in Scotland. He lost that fight, and now the Trump Organization has agreed to pay the Scottish government $290,000 to cover its legal fees, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Read More Show Less