The global wind turbine leader Siemens has just inked a deal to provide its offshore turbines to the massive new Cape Wind wind power project, and that one contract could shake the offshore wind power market to its core. You know what they say about waking the sleeping tiger, right?
For the past several years, other nations (notably the UK, China, Belgium, and Denmark) have been going at the offshore wind industry hammer and tongs while the US industry has been practically comatose, with just a couple of demonstration-scale projects to its credit. Cape Wind is going to change all that.
How Significant Is Cape Wind?
To give you an idea of offshore wind power potential in the US, a Stanford University study from 2009 estimated that the Atlantic Coast alone could provide enough offshore wind power for about one-third of the US, which translates into every major city along the eastern seaboard and everything in between.
As the first commercial offshore wind farm in the US, Cape Wind will be the anchor for a coordinated, multistate effort to tap into that potential, through an initiative launched by the Obama Administration called the Atlantic Offshore Wind Consortium.
As the first of its kind, Cape Wind illustrates the many hurdles faced by the US offshore wind industry, including local, state and federal permitting issues as well as lawsuits from landowners and other stakeholders in the Cape Cod region.
The expectation is that lessons learned from getting Cape Wind off the drawing board will help streamline the process in other coastal states. The Department of Energy is already anticipated that nationally, installed US offshore wind capacity will grow from virtually zero to 3.5 gigawatts in the next five years.
The Cape Wind Project and Siemens Wind Turbines
Cape Wind started picking up speed in 2011, when the project got its Department of Energy permit.
Cape Wind will consist of 130 wind turbines with a combined capacity of up to 420 megawatts. Its developer, Energy Management Inc., estimates that even in average winds the turbines will generate enough electricity for about three-quarters of Cape Cod and its islands.
The contract calls for Siemens to provide its 3.6 megawatt offshore wind turbines along with a 15-year service agreement.
Green Jobs And Offshore Wind Power
Although Siemens’s global home is Germany, the company is careful to note that its US projects come along with US jobs and investment. According to company figures, about 60,000 people already work for Siemens in the US, and management of the Cape Wind contract will be conducted from US offices:
Siemens opened its North American Offshore Wind Office in Boston in 2010 to be closer to its U.S. and Canadian customers, and specifically to work with Cape Wind. Project management for the Cape Wind project will be managed from the Boston office, while the ESP [electric service platform] scope of work will be managed from the Company’s Transmission operations in Cary, North Carolina, and the long-term maintenance program will be managed from the company’s Americas headquarters located in Orlando, Florida.
Components for the Cape Wind’s offshore electric service platform (the part of the project that converts voltage from the turbines) will also be manufactured in Maine under a subcontract to the US firm Cianbro.
It’s worth noting that Maine’s political image has been somewhat mixed under the leadership of Governor Paul LePage, who has touted global warming as a good thing for the state’s economy, but Maine Senator Angus King has been a vocal advocate for climate management and he had this to say about the state’s role in Cape Wind:
I am very pleased that Cianbro, a Maine-based company and partner in UMaine’s floating offshore wind project, will join forces with Siemens and Cape Wind of Massachusetts to produce the offshore substation for an industry-leading offshore wind farm. By helping to generate renewable energy, and by putting New Englanders to work in the process, projects like this will not only benefit our environment, but our economy as well.
About Those Offshore Wind Turbines…
Energy Management went with an established global leader when it selected Siemens for the contract. The turbines are the same model used in a number of existing offshore wind farms and Siemens already has contracts to provide it for eight upcoming offshore projects.
Siemens’s SWT-3.6-120 model is designed specifically for sites with constrained capacity (the company also offers a model with a slightly higher capacity of 4.0 MW).
As part of an integrated offshore system, the turbines are equipped with a generous helping of automatic and remotely operated equipment, including Siemens’s proprietary WebWPS SCADA system, a vibration monitoring system that enables web-based reprogramming, and a self-diagnosing controller.
The turbines are also designed to start up automatically when wind speeds average about ten mph, increase their output at a steady rate as wind speed rises up to about 30 mph.
The turbines automatically “feather” into shutdown mode when wind speeds get too high (about 56 mph), and automatically reset once wind speeds drop.
The Solyndra Of Wind Power, Or Not
Let’s note for the record that Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, had Cape Wind in his sights last year, which is no surprise considering the Congressman’s reputation as a climate change denier.
With Issa sniffing around Cape Wind’s approval process, the predictable result was that conservative media began comparing Cape Wind to the notorious Solyndra bankruptcy.
As with so many of the Congressman’s investigations, the Cape Wind query appears to have gone nowhere, especially now that the Siemens wind turbine contract has been signed, sealed, and delivered.
However, as recently as October 13, Human Events, which bills itself as a platform for “powerful conservative voices,” was still pounding the “another Solyndra in the making” drum, so stay tuned.
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