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Worst Idea Ever, Meet Cheapest Offshore Wind Energy Ever

Prices for offshore wind energy in the US just set new low record, crushing the “zero carbon” dreams of fossil energy producers.

It might not be the worst ever idea in all of human history, but it probably comes pretty close. Somewhere out on the frozen plains of Saskatchewan, Canada, somebody hatched a plan to produce fossil hydrogen by lighting up underground oil deposits. Good luck with that! Meanwhile, the cost of offshore wind energy in the US is falling faster than expected. That could juice the emerging market for renewable hydrogen and push fossil-sourced hydrogen out into the cold. Game on!

offshore wind energy Massachusetts

The new Mayflower Wind offshore wind energy project comes at a lower-than-anticipated cost (screenshot via mayflowerwind.com).

Lowest Cost Ever For Offshore Wind Energy

The latest offshore wind energy news involves the proposed Mayflower Wind project in Massachusetts. Yesterday the Herald News (follow the link to support local journalism) reported that the cost of electricity from Mayflower Wind will weigh in at just 5.8 cents per kilowatt-hour.

According to the report, that’s the lowest price yet for offshore wind energy in the US.

That’s significant because the developer — a joint venture between Shell and EDP Renewables — was not under any particular pressure to set a record for cost-cutting.

In fact, both the company and state officials anticipated a somewhat higher outcome, based on the price of electricity from the previously approved Vineyard Wind project, at 6.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Wind Energy Vs. Fossil Hydrogen: Compare & Contrast

The falling cost of wind energy has a direct connection with the prospects for opening up the renewable energy hydrogen market.

Hydrogen does not emit carbon when used as fuel, but in today’s market it is far from a “green” fuel, because the primary source for hydrogen today is natural gas.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the search for renewable sources is gathering steam, with electrolysis (aka water-splitting), biogas, bioreactors, and photoelectrochemical processes all in the mix.

Electrolysis is an area in which the shift to renewable energy has made all the difference. The process requires massive amounts of energy, making it  impractical until the cost of wind and solar began to fall.

The offshore wind energy angle comes in because electrolysis can provide a means of avoiding curtailment during periods of low consumer demand. The turbines can keep generating electricity even when nobody has their lights on, storing it in the form of hydrogen produced through electrolysis.

CleanTechnica is reaching out to Mayflower for some additional insights on the curtailment issue, so stay tuned for more on that score.

Hydrogen has the added benefit of being able to store energy over long periods of time — for days and more, instead of just a few hours. Hydrogen can also help resolve onshore transmission bottlenecks, since it can be transported by road, rail, barge, or pipeline in addition to being used for onsite electricity generation.

Green Hydrogen, My Foot

Getting back to that Saskatchewan project, check out the latest issue of Science for a quick primer on greenwashing.

The headline pretty much sums it up:

“Company to harvest green hydrogen by igniting oil fires underground”

That’s it. That’s the primer.

The article describes a project under the startup Proton Technologies, located in the 200 million-barrel Superb oil field. The plan is to light it up, releasing hydrogen and CO2 underground. The CO2 would stay there. Meanwhile, specialized wells would harvest the hydrogen.

The basic idea is to harvest energy from underground fossils without releasing carbon into the atmosphere. In other words, it creates a pathway for oil producers to claim zero carbon emissions for their fossil fuel (for those of you new to the topic, hydrogen is a zero carbon fuel).

The idea already seems to have caught on, as petroleum producers attempt to burnish their green cred while continuing to harvest fossil energy from under the ground.

Last December, for example, the Spanish oil giant Repsol unveiled a plan to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Part of the plan involves renewable energy, but it also depends on reducing carbon emissions from its petroleum operations.

Norway’s Equinor followed suit last month with a similar approach, ramping up its renewable energy ventures while also spending $5.7 billion to reduce carbon emissions at its oil operations.

Just today, BP pledged that it could achieve net zero status by 2050 while continuing to produce oil and gas.

And so on. Despite the urgent need to ramp up action on climate change, fossil energy stakeholders are still not too keen on throwing in the fossil energy towel.

Meanwhile, according to one estimate ratepayers in Massachusetts can look forward to a direct savings of averaging 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour from the new offshore wind energy project, compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

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Photo (screenshot): via Mayflower Wind.

 
 
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Written By

Tina 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+.

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