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Getting offshore wind energy to Hawaii is an extremely complicated dance, but the Danish wind energy consortium AWE seems to have figured out the steps.

Clean Power

New Offshore Wind Energy Farm Aims For Hawaii Trifecta

Getting offshore wind energy to Hawaii is an extremely complicated dance, but the Danish wind energy consortium AWE seems to have figured out the steps.

It’s going to be a complicated dance around Hawaii’s powerful tourism, military, and ocean resource stakeholders, but the Danish wind energy consortium AWE has figured out a way to juggle all three interests while parking a pair of massive new wind farms in an area with some of the region’s sweetest wind resources. Last week, AWE confirmed to local media that it is going full steam ahead with its plans for not one but two wind farms off the island of Oahu.

These aren’t just any ordinary offshore wind turbines. These are floating wind turbines, which means they can be towed into deep waters, and that’s the key to the whole thing.

Hawaii offshore wind energy

Renewable Energy For Hawaii

Hawaii has become an official statewide test bed for renewable energy in the US, with a good deal of support from the US Navy. Reliability, security, safety, and price predictability are critical factors for military installations in Hawaii as well as the civilian population.

The entire state is historically dependent on expensive, imported fossil fuels, and its plan is to get 100% of its energy from local, renewable sources by 2040.

Solar energy and onshore wind farms have already taken off in Hawaii, and the state hosts a national shared test facility for wave energy devices at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Oahu.

Hawaii is also checking out the hydrogen economy, with the help of a small fleet of Army fuel cell electric vehicles in partnership with GM. That would come under the renewable category if the hydrogen is sourced from alternatives such as biogas or solar-powered water “splitting.”

Offshore Wind Energy For Hawaii…

Land is in short supply in Hawaii, and that sets the table for offshore wind energy. The AWE (Alpha Wind Energy) offshore wind energy project would be located in two areas off the coast of Oahu, with the closest turbine being no less than 12 miles out.

The plan is for a total of 102 turbines with a combined capacity of 408 megawatts.

AWE put in a lease application with the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management through its subsidiary AW Hawaii Wind LLC explaining why this is a suitable location  (breaks added):

The selected area indicated in section 2.1 below has some of the highest predicted wind energy levels in close vicinity to Oahu. The depth of the ocean is realistic for mooring of foundations.

The area is relatively close to some of the existing important infrastructure. The area is outside any designated environmentally protected areas. The area is only lightly impacted by unclassified and known significant undersea cables.

Merchant ship and fishing activities are limited. Visibility from primary tourist beaches is restricted. DOD activities are the only potential significant known issues.

That reference to DOD (Department of Defense) could have spelled real trouble just a few years ago. The agency had previously given the stinkeye to wind turbines due to concerns over radar interference, but that issue has been laid to rest in recent years. We’re guessing that the Navy is open to suggestion if problems arise with AWE’s preferred site.

Cultural concerns have also played a significant role in site selection.

…And A Group Hug For US Taxpayers

The selected area is on a plateau that ranges in depth from 700 to 1,000 meters (2,300 to 3,300 feet). That’s impractical for a tower-type deepwater turbine, and that’s where the floating turbine comes in.

According to reports, the company Principle Power will supply the floating turbines, so we’re going to pause right here while taxpayers in the US give themselves a group hug.

Principle Power has been developing its WindFloat offshore wind energy technology with a hefty assist from the US Department of Energy. Back in 2009, the Energy Department provided Principle with a $750,000 development grant to help design a floating wind turbine that also captures wave energy.

Last year the Energy Department upped the ante. Principle Power was awarded one of three $47 million funding packages, each designed to introduce cutting edge technology into the US offshore wind energy market.

The other two projects are on the East Coast. The Principle offshore wind energy project is already under way on the West Coast, off Coos Bay in Oregon, building on the company’s ongoing relationship with the Energy Department and other stakeholders.

Here’s a nifty time-lapse video of the Coos Bay prototype under construction back in 2012:

Here’s a look at how the construction would proceed in multiples for an entire wind farm:

If you noticed a lot of concrete infrastructure involved in the turbine construction site, you’re not the only one. While the construction site’s footprint seems to be exaggerated for clarity in this video, there will be some coastal infrastructure involved. The cost-effectiveness of the design involves fully constructing the turbines on land, and towing them out to sea.

Given the stakeholders involved in Hawaii, finding a suitable construction site is not going to be a walk in the park, so stay tuned.

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Image Credits: Schematic (screenshot) courtesy of AWE, video courtesy of Principle Power.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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