Quantcast

Offshore Wind Installations on Track For Seventh Consecutive Record Year

Business

By J. Matthew Roney

Offshore wind power installations are on track to hit a seventh consecutive annual record in 2013. Developers added 1,080 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity in the first half of the year, expanding the world total by 20 percent in just six months. Fifteen countries host some 6,500 MW of offshore wind capacity. Before the year is out, the world total should exceed 7,100 MW. Although still small compared with the roughly 300,000 MW of land-based wind power, offshore capacity is growing at close to 40 percent a year.

Graphic credit: Earth Policy Institute

In 1991, Denmark installed the world’s first offshore wind farm, a 5 MW project in the Baltic Sea. The country’s offshore wind sector has since alternated between lulls and bursts of activity. Since 2008, Denmark’s offshore wind capacity has more than tripled, topping 1,200 MW by mid-2013. More than 350 MW of offshore wind power were plugged into the grid in the first half of the year—all of it to complete the 400 MW Anholt project, which is expected to meet 4 percent of Danish electricity needs.

Denmark already gets more than 30 percent of its electricity from wind—onshore and offshore—and aims to increase that share to 50 percent by 2020. At about one third the size of New York State, Denmark has the world’s highest wind power capacity per square mile, so it will rely mostly on offshore expansion to hit the 2020 target.

Denmark was first to put wind turbines in the sea, but today it ranks a distant second to the UK in total offshore wind generating capacity. More than 500 MW of new offshore wind power went online in UK waters in the first half of 2013, bringing the country’s grand total to more than 3,400 MW—enough to power more than 2 million UK homes.

The bulk of this new offshore capacity went to completing the 630 MW first phase of the London Array, now the world’s largest offshore wind farm. It overtook another UK project, the 500 MW Greater Gabbard wind farm, which was finished in 2012. In all, the UK has some 12,000 MW of offshore wind capacity under construction or in earlier development stages.

Belgium’s offshore wind capacity grew 20 percent to 450 MW in the first half of 2013, placing it third in the world rankings. Germany reached 380 MW of offshore wind and will have at least 520 MW by year’s end. Beyond this, the German offshore industry expects another 1,000 MW will connect to the grid in both 2014 and 2015.

Countries in Asia are starting to make offshore wind power more than just a European affair. China, for example, brought its first offshore wind farm online in 2010. Since then, China has quickly climbed to fourth in the world, with 390 MW. The official goal is for 5,000 MW of wind capacity in Chinese waters by 2015, ballooning to 30,000 MW by 2020.

Graphic credit: Earth Policy Institute

In Japan, where land is at a premium and where the future of nuclear energy is in question, offshore wind is gaining attention as a potentially huge domestic, carbon-free power source. A 16 MW project inaugurated in the first half of 2013 bumped Japan’s offshore wind capacity to 41 MW.

Because Japan lacks much shallow seabed in which to fix standard offshore turbines, new floating turbine technology is likely the future for offshore wind there. Off the coast of Fukushima prefecture, a 2 MW floating turbine will begin generating electricity in November 2013, the first stage of a 16 MW demonstration project. If it performs well, the hope is to expand the project’s capacity to up to 1,000 MW by 2020.

Floating turbines may actually be a big part of future offshore wind development at the global level. Not only do they greatly expand the area available for wind farms, they also have the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of offshore wind generation, which today is more than twice as expensive as that from turbines on land. While offshore wind manufacturers have managed to achieve cost reductions for the turbines themselves—through lighter, stronger materials and increased efficiency, for example—these savings have thus far been offset by the rising cost of installing and maintaining turbines fixed to the seabed as projects move into deeper waters.

The renewable energy consultancy GL Garrad Hassan notes that working around harsh weather becomes much easier with floating turbines: when conditions are favorable, relatively cheap tugboats can bring a turbine to the project site for quick installation, avoiding the need for specialized installation vessels. The turbine can be floated back to shore when the time comes for maintenance, lowering both cost and risk.

The world is gaining experience in using this young technology. In the last few years, Norway’s Statoil and Seattle-based Principle Power have both deployed floating wind prototypes successfully, in Norwegian and Portuguese waters, respectively.

In June 2013, the U.S. at last joined the offshore wind club when a 20 kilowatt (0.02 MW) floating wind turbine anchored off the coast of Maine first sent electricity to the state’s power grid. The turbine developer, DeepCwind, a consortium led by the University of Maine, plans to deploy two much larger versions, 6 MW each, in 2016. 

The first full-fledged offshore wind farm in the United States, though, will likely be of the traditional variety fixed to a foundation in the seabed. Three proposals—Massachusetts’ 470-MW Cape Wind project, Rhode Island’s 30 MW Block Island Wind Farm, and New Jersey’s 25 MW Fisherman’s Energy I project—are the closest to beginning construction. 

U.S. offshore wind’s potential is staggering. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, shallow waters along the eastern seaboard could host 530,000 MW of wind power, capable of covering more than 40 percent of current U.S. electricity generation. Adding in deeper waters and the other U.S. coastal regions boosts the potential to more than 4.1 million MW. 

This is consistent with the findings of a 2009 Harvard study that calculated wind energy potential worldwide. The authors estimated that in most of the world’s leading carbon dioxide-emitting countries, available wind resources could easily meet national electricity needs. In fact, offshore wind alone would be sufficient. 

Clearly, the world has barely begun to realize its offshore potential. Indeed, in some countries, regulatory and policy uncertainty seem to be sapping offshore wind’s momentum just as it really gets going, clouding the picture for future development. The UK government, concerned about costs, recently changed its target date for 18,000 MW of offshore wind from 2020 to 2030. In Germany, turbine orders are scarce as developers await the new coalition government’s plans for regulations and incentives. And in China, offshore wind companies say the guaranteed price for the electricity they generate is set too low to stimulate rapid growth, calling into question whether the country can hit its ambitious goals for 2015 and 2020. 

Reflecting the hazy outlook in these and other key countries, projections for global offshore wind capacity over the next decade or so—from research and consulting firms and from industry publications—range anywhere from 37,000 to 130,000 MW. Despite the impressive growth of recent years, it seems that the lower end of these forecasts is much more likely. We know there is practically no limit to the available resource. What remains to be seen is how quickly the world will harness it and give offshore wind power a more prominent place in the new energy economy.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter


georgeclerk / E+ / Getty Images

By Jennifer Molidor

One million species are at risk of extinction from human activity, warns a recent study by scientists with the United Nations. We need to cut greenhouse gas pollution across all sectors to avoid catastrophic climate change — and we need to do it fast, said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This research should serve as a rallying cry for polluting industries to make major changes now. Yet the agriculture industry continues to lag behind.

Read More Show Less
Edwin Remsburg / VW Pics / Getty Images

Botswana, home to one third of Africa's elephants, announced Wednesday that it was lifting its ban on the hunting of the large mammals.

"The Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism wishes to inform the public that following extensive consultations with all stakeholders, the Government of Botswana has taken a decision to lift the hunting suspension," the government announced in a press release shared on social media.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Pxhere

By Richard Denison

Readers of this blog know how concerned EDF is over the Trump EPA's approval of many dozens of new chemicals based on its mere "expectation" that workers across supply chains will always employ personal protective equipment (PPE) just because it is recommended in the manufacturer's non-binding safety data sheet (SDS).

Read More Show Less
De Molen windmill and nuclear power plant cooling tower in Doel, Belgium. Trougnouf / CC BY-SA 4.0

By Grant Smith

From 2009 to 2012, Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which approves nuclear power plant designs and sets safety standards for plants. But he now says that nuclear power is too dangerous and expensive — and not part of the answer to the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Brett Walton / Circle of Blue

By Brett Walton

When Greg Wetherbee sat in front of the microscope recently, he was looking for fragments of metals or coal, particles that might indicate the source of airborne nitrogen pollution in Rocky Mountain National Park. What caught his eye, though, were the plastics.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Gabriele Holtermann Gorden / Pacific Press / LightRocket / Getty Images

In a big victory for animals, Prada has announced that it's ending its use of fur! It joins Coach, Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood, Michael Kors, Donna Karan and many others PETA has pushed toward a ban.

This is a victory more than a decade in the making. PETA and our international affiliates have crashed Prada's catwalks with anti-fur signs, held eye-catching demonstrations all around the world, and sent the company loads of information about the fur industry. In 2018, actor and animal rights advocate Pamela Anderson sent a letter on PETA's behalf urging Miuccia Prada to commit to leaving fur out of all future collections, and the iconic designer has finally listened.

Read More Show Less
Amer Ghazzal / Barcroft Media / Getty Images

If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.

That's the conclusion of a new study from think tank Autonomy, which found that Germany, the UK and Sweden all needed to drastically reduce their workweeks to fight climate change.

"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."

The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.

The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.

The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.

"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."

Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.

"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."

Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.

"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice held a press conference after the annual shareholder meeting on May 22. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice

Amazon shareholders voted down an employee-backed resolution calling for more aggressive action on climate change at their annual meeting Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times reported.

Read More Show Less