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Clean Power offshore wind power

Published on May 8th, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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Your Tax Dollars At Work: $141 Mil To Spark US Offshore Wind Revolution

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May 8th, 2014 by  

If all goes well, Oregon, Virginia, and New Jersey are going to lead America’s offshore wind power revolution with three new cutting edge projects, each funded with $47 million from the Energy Department for a total of $141 million. The US offshore wind sector has been spinning its wheels for years and the Obama Administration aims to put a stop to all that lollygagging. The goal is to have the three projects up and running by 2017.

offshore wind power

Offshore wind turbine courtesy of US Department of Energy.

Cutting Edge Wind Power For New Jersey, Like It Or Not

Hmm. Well, we don’t know about Oregon and Virginia, but the New Jersey angle is rather intriguing. Governor Chris Christie has earned a reputation for monkey-wrenching New Jersey’s clean tech progress, most famously when he pulled the state out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap-and-trade program (an action that was apparently illegal).

The state is still signed on to the Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy Consortium but the Christie Administration hasn’t exactly been busting down doors to pursue the opportunity to help kickstart the state’s wind industry. Now it looks like the Energy Department isn’t taking any chances: New Jersey is getting offshore wind whether Governor Christie likes it or not.

The state has some catching up to do, considering that major projects in the region are already in the pipeline, including the massive Cape Wind offshore wind farm in Massachusetts despite a Koch-funded campaign to knock the pins out from under it.

New Jersey’s new project will consist of five 5-megawatt wind turbine about three miles out from Atlantic City. Atlantic City itself was an early wind adopter in the state and it already has wind turbines on the grounds of its wastewater treatment plant, which have attracted the interest of tourists.

The turbines will be installed by Fishermen’s Energy using a new “twisted jacket” foundation designed with ease of manufacturing in mind, thereby lowering costs. The Energy Department describes it as a trussed structure, kind of like a radio tower, consisting of three legs that twist around a central column.

Aside from providing a live demo of the new foundation, the turbines will serve as a research lab for studying the interaction of offshore wind turbines.

Offshore Wind Power For Oregon And Virginia

The new Oregon project will use a new type of semi-submersible foundation called WindFloat, developed by the company Principle Power. Principle is tasked with installing five 6-megawatt direct-drive wind turbines in water more than 1,000 feet deep, about 18 miles out from Coos Bay.

As with the twisted jacket foundation, WindFloat was designed with simplicity of installation in mind, without the need for highly specialized ships. The entire thing can be assembled on shore and towed out to sea.

As for the foundation itself, the basic concept is like a ship, which sits partly under water and partly above water. The challenge is to anchor it in one place, in deep water. Principle’s solution is a triangular, three-column foundation moored to the sea floor with a system of lines and anchors. The turbine is located on one of the three columns and the other two act as ballast for stability.

According to the Energy Department, more than 60% of US offshore wind resources are in deep waters beyond the reach of conventional fixed-bottom foundations. That includes virtually all of the West Coast, so the success of the Coos Bay project should kickstart private sector interest in the deepwater wind power.

The Virginia project is focused on a hurricane-resilient turbine design, in order to demonstrate that the East Coast’s storm vulnerability need not interfere with its wind power potential. For this project, the utility Virginia Power (aka Dominion Virginia Power) will install two 6-megawatt turbines about 26 miles out from Virginia Beach, using the twisted jacket foundation.

Setting this project apart is its location relatively far from shore, so it will as a test bed for developing best practices in terms of installation, operation and maintenance.

More And Better Offshore Wind Power

All three projects are going to use direct-drive turbines. Direct drive is a relatively new technology replacing the standard gearbox configuration. One major advantage of direct drive is to reduce the number of moving parts in the turbine.

 

The Virginia project will use DD turbines from Alstom, the Oregon project will go for Siemens, and New Jersey will go with a company called XEMC.

As for scale, bigger is better: all of the turbines in the three projects will have blades that almost top the length of a football field.

The Energy Department also announced a couple of proposals that are promising but not quite ready for prime time, from the University of Maine and the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation. These two focus on turbine foundation solutions for cold environments, such as a monopile design that reduces ice loading, so stay tuned for more news on that.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Michael Berndtson

    Well written and informative. I’d like to better understand (and really DOE haters) how the DOE is both a funder of basic R&D, tech and processes commercialization supporter and a venture capitalist. A good writer (cough *Tina* cough) could probably explain this in a way that even the most average of average citizen would say, “huh, this sounds like a smart thing for a country to invest in.”

    • Bob_Wallace

      These are kick-starter grants, not investments (partial ownership) aren’t they? Perhaps I missed something.

      I’m addressing the “venture capitalist” part.

      • Michael Berndtson

        If that’s the case we should move DOE into VC. That’s why a good writer who researchers stuff could help inform the rest of us what DOE does – over and above, of course, pithy replies from comments section volunteers (that was a joke, I kid because I love everyone).

        This way, all that time and tax dollar investment could (maybe) bring money back to the treasury. Fracking is an example, where DOE funded pretty much all the tight shale fracking research and development in the 1970s for the Marcellus. There’s many examples of oil and gas extraction technologies funded in part and in whole by DOE, including tar sands in situ extraction. The downside would be that the government would retain liability. Then again, it pretty much does anyway, with the risk going to taxpayers and reward going to private sector, be it energy exploitation cleanup or banks collapsing.

  • MandyREverson

    As for scale, bigger is better: all of the turbines in the three projects will have blades that almost top the length of a football field. http://num.to/214.459.844.524

  • Paulo Florim

    Pelamis (using wave power) and this floating turbine near its been tested 5kms of the coast near Porto, Portugal. EDP Renewables is investing in this kind of technologies, the platform is assembled 400 kms south from Porto and then towed north along the coast. the wind is stronger up north.

  • Phil McKracken

    Building huge turbines out in open water greatly increases regulation, complexity and above all, cost. Without active and generous government support, onshore turbines will remain the norm in North America.
    BUT, floating turbines are a whole different category that could finally trigger an offshore power boom that would see coal plants shut down.
    Linking Pacific, Great Plains and Atlantic wind farms together would provide nearly constant power generation that would meaningfully address our environment’s biggest threat to survival.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I’m not sure about that. The Atlantic sea floor (continental shelf) is rather shallow, doesn’t fall off like the Pacific. And while it’s more expensive to install in the water than on land the offshore resources are very good and close to East Coast population centers.

      Floaters, we’ve got some tremendous wind resources along the Pacific coast.

  • SecularAnimist

    I heard the CEO of Dominion Virginia Power on the radio this morning, and he sounded unenthusiastic about this project — he said it won’t produce any electricity for 20 years, and that the electricity would cost 3 to 4 times as much as electricity from onshore wind, which he claimed costs 3 to 4 times as much as electricity from fossil fuels. I believe that last claim, at least, is incorrect.

    • Bob_Wallace

      You always have to look to see which set of fossil fuel costs are being used.

      Electricity from a paid off coal plant = cheap.

      Electricity from a new coal plant = expensive.

      Electricity from a new coal plant + external costs = more expensive than the first generation of offshore wind.

      “Any” electricity for 20 years? Guy is either dishonest or needs to be replaced. He’s misleading his company.

  • JamesWimberley

    The interesting technology here is the floating turbine off Oregon. Thanks to British taxpayers, who have played the sugar daddy role for offshore wind that German consumers have for pv solar, shallow offshore wind is a mature and low-risk technology, even if obstinately more expensive than onshore in spite of the now enormous sizes (Dong are working on 10MW). The British continental shelf in the North Sea is large and there’s no need to explore floating turbines, as Japan has to. I suspect they will always be quite expensive, simply because you need such a large structure.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Isn’t German offshore cheaper than UK offshore? (If so, might have something to do with difficulty of installation.)

      And let’s give some love to the US. We brought the price of onshore wind from expensive to where the rest of the world started taking notice. And we did the very heavy lifting for PV starting back when it was $100/W.

      • JamesWimberley

        Onshore wind: didn’t Germany and Denmark play a big part too, from around 1980?

        On PV: I’ll grant the US the invention (huge) and early niche commercialization for satellites. But don’t tell me this cost a lot. Then it was Japan with rooftop panels, then German FITs from 2000. In terms of the overall financial burden, only Germany counts.

        German offshore costs: what offshore? They are still messing about, precisely because it’s expensive. I think there is a cost gap on onshore wind. This may be down to the permitting costs: a gruelling battle in England (not Scotland) vs. warm community support in Germany.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m under the impression that most of the off grid stuff was in the US. This is where a lot of solar went when prices were in the $8 to $20 range. Inverter companies largely served the off grid community. Trace (now Sunny Boy) and Heart (started by a sail boat cruiser) were the inverter companies at first.

          ​I’ve got no problem with sharing the glory, but let’s not leave anyone out.​

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