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.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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