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US Falling Behind In Offshore Wind Power

Members of the faculty at the University of Delaware have claimed that the US has fallen behind in offshore wind power.

Which might come as something of a surprise to many, who weren’t aware that this was news.

Cape Wind offshore wind powerA group of professors from the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment (CEOE), the College of Engineering, and the Alfred Lerner School of Business and Economics — and who are all associated with the University of Delaware’s Center for Carbon Free Power Integration (CCPI) — reported their findings in an invited paper that was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Specifically, the paper details the view of its authors that US offshore wind power is further away from commercial-scale deployment and operation than it was in 2005.

Which, again, should come as no real surprise to those who have paid in the slightest bit of attention to the progress of the offshore wind industry in the US. While earlier this year, Deepwater Wind’s Block Island wind farm reached “steel in the water,” it followed the last breaths of the long-awaited Cape Wind project, which ran out of money earlier this year, which is only the most prominent offshore wind failure for the US over the past few years.

“As we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the US Energy Policy Act of 2005, it is disheartening to see that while land-based wind and solar have reached new heights, US offshore wind has remained a missed opportunity,” said Jeremy Firestone, the paper’s lead author and a professor in the CEOE’s School of Marine Science and Policy and directs CCPI.

Square Peg, Round Hole — Wind is not Oil

While the conclusions reached by Firestone and his colleagues — that regulatory, tax, and finance policy, planning changes, and a refocused research effort are required to get the US offshore wind energy industry back on track — are not exactly breaking news, their understanding of the overall situation yields a very interesting premise. From the University of Delaware:

Offshore wind development, he says, is currently predicated on a model originally developed for offshore oil. But while offshore oil can be sold to refineries throughout the U.S. and its price is influenced by global markets, electricity from renewable energy such as offshore wind is tied to local markets and is part of a regional grid system.

“Electricity markets are different than oil and gas, it’s like trying to put a square peg in a round hole,” Firestone explains.

The findings made by Firestone and colleagues backs up research published earlier this year that it would be almost impossible for any individual state in the US to jump start an offshore wind industry. According to a report published by the Clean Energy Group and Navigant Consulting, “Offshore wind will only become cost competitive and reach its true potential if the states in the Northeast region act together to help create a market for the technology,” adding that “The current, go-it alone, single-state policy approach has failed.”

So what needs to be done?

The Clean Energy Group and Navigant laid out seven multi-state policies that east-coast states must consider if they are to develop major offshore wind projects — including, a regional offshore wind target; coordinating policy incentives; financing; procurement; economic development; transmission; and permitting.

Similarly, the University of Delaware professors believe that tax policy and financial incentives, which include long-term tax credits for implementation and loan guarantees, are vital for the offshore wind industry. Unlike some other renewable energy technologies, wind energy needs a lot of capital to get started — but once it does, is relatively financially un-intensive.

Near-Unlimited Potential

The authors also make clear the “tremendous potential” a US offshore wind industry could have on the country’s electricity generation mix — and it’s important to note just how extensive that potential is. A report published earlier this year by the Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation outlined the “staggering” potential of offshore wind power in the US. Specifically, according to the report, the US has a projected 4,223 GW worth of offshore wind generating potential available to them — which includes 50 GW from Lake Erie all by itself.

Similarly, a new report from the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory predicts that the US could have 3.3 GW of offshore wind power by the end of this decade. In fact, the report identifies 21 offshore wind projects currently in the project pipeline, with a total adding up to as much as 15,650 MW.

Further Benefits and Concerns

The University of Delaware-authored report also highlights other benefits and motivations — including local manufacturing jobs, reducing pollutants caused by dirtier energy generation techniques, clean energy security, price stability, and national economic competitiveness overseas.

But there are also the natural barriers to offshore wind that surround every potential project — including environmental impact, and personal distastes such as a wind turbine or farm’s impact on the view. As the researchers note, social and cultural concerns have a dramatic impact on the development progress.

“Individuals often have deep and meaningful experiences with the ocean and long-standing ties to coastal communities, and as a result, may be resistant to changes to the coastal landscape,” Firestone notes. “Attention also should be devoted to research that seeks to understand these social and cultural barriers to change.”

 
 
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