New Offshore Wind Energy Farm Aims For Hawaii Trifecta

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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 Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3137 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey

14 thoughts on “New Offshore Wind Energy Farm Aims For Hawaii Trifecta

  • Given the size of the construction facility in the video, an old ship dock which used to be used for repairing ships would be ideal.

    Do any exist in Hawaii? Better ask the DoD.

  • Hope this goes thru, would really prove the idea and open up the west coast for off shore. The complete build in dry dock makes installing the turbine/blades a lot easier. Don’t need special ships built to get started.

    • I would think dry docks would be ideal. I don’t think these floaters have a lot of draft.

      You’d be building them on dry land. Workers would need to wear life jackets and dropped tools/parts would go to the bottom.

      • Yes, Bob that is what I mean. Build on dry land (dry dock). Neither it or the lift crane is moving (as when built offshore). Don’t need those expensive special ships to do the construction. Just a dry dock, standard cranes, and standard tug boats.

  • Oh, I don’t know. Seems like Pearl Harbor can manage this nicely.

    I am really rooting for Principle Power. This thing should have a great chance for economic success here in Hawaii, with high power prices. Come to think of it, just about any high population island chain would be a great place for this tech.

    This is a great place to work the bugs out. In a few years, it should be ready for adoption on the US West Coast were there is a gargantuan amount of energy available, and very steady year round.

    Right now the East Coast is starting shallow water seabed foundation wind turbines off Block Island, Rhode Island. Its just a teaser.

    A real treat will be when it started to get used in the Midwest Great Lakes regions.

  • Very cool to see this. I hope Hawaii builds this offshore system and is
    able to go 100% local/renewable by 2040.

    After a read-through of the article, I watched the 2 embedded videos.
    One of those lead to another YouTube wind turbine video, detailing how
    to build a rather sophisticated miniature one from PVC pipe and a stepper
    motor from an old computer printer . . .

  • Why don’t they build them on the mainland and tow to Hawaii? Shipping raw materials to build them in Hawaii, possibly even building a whole new construction site or retrofitting an existing one, does not make any sense unless the turbines are really dangerous or super costly to drag over long distances.

    • Getting them into place 10-20 miles off from the coast of Hawaii can be done with regular tugboats when the forecast shows calm weather.
      Getting them across thousands of miles of ocean would require much bigger ships and the hazard of running into inclement weather while they are floating very high (to avoid resistance) and seems likely that they would lose some from storms tipping over. When in place the ballast tanks can be filled to keep them safe, it is probably impractical to move them a great distance while unballasted.

  • One option that might make floating wind in a relatively remote location like Hawaii possible is a two bladed wind turbine. Since a two bladed turbine is a flat pack, it could be shipped cheaply in pre-assembled form from China, California or wherever. That’d leave only the assembly of the floats to be done locally, again possible from a flatpack kit.

    I know two bladed turbines have been tried over and over again without success, for good reasons (early fatigue, among other things). As such, I’m still very skeptical. However, there is a reputable German turbine designer, Aerodyn, that claims to finally have a turbine that performs well in testing.

    Their licensee, MingYang, has been succesfully testing a 3MW design in Urumqi (China) for a few years and has an 87MW offshore farm running in China. 6MW turbines are intesting phase and an 8MW design is in the works.

    Again, don’t get your hopes up too much. These designs have all had very poor longevity in the past. However, with recent advances in turbine blade design, that just might be resolved.

    • Three blades. Bolt blades to hub at the assembly dock.

      Prefab tower and float components, ship, assemble in dry dock. Floats can be shipped as pre-bent sections and welded together on site. Ship nacelle and innards.

      I’m thinking that floaters won’t take off extremely fast. I suspect there’s more refinement needed for the floats before we see heavy commitment.

    • In addition to some reliability issues, 2 bladded turbines are slightly less efficient in converting the wind into power.

  • Thanks Tina,

  • Interesting and inspiring. Thank you!

  • Would be interesting to know how these will handle the huge waves that show up from time to time? The salt water corrosion and the underwater cable to get the power back to Oahu?

Comments are closed.