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floating offshore wind turbines USA
The US Department of Energy is behind the global push for floating offshore wind turbines (by Josh Bauer, NREL

Clean Power

Wowzers — 2X More Electricity From Offshore Wind For USA

Whelp, so much for saving all those coal jobs. Regardless of the goings-on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the US Department of Energy is determined to get the nation’s offshore wind industry up and running. When it hits full speed, look out!

Whelp, so much for saving all those coal jobs. Regardless of the goings-on at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the US Department of Energy is determined to get the nation’s offshore wind industry up and running. When it hits full speed, look out!

floating offshore wind turbines

The US Department of Energy is behind the global push for floating offshore wind turbines (by Josh Bauer, NREL).

2x More Electricity From Offshore Wind

The latest news on that score comes from the Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“Offshore wind, with its potential for domestic electricity-generating capacity of more than 2,000 gigawatts (GW), could supply enough electricity to meet the needs of the entire United States two times over,” NREL stated earlier this week.

The sticky wicket is technology. Other nations are already far ahead in the offshore wind race, but for the most part offshore turbines are anchored onto platforms that fix into the ocean bed, which means they need to be located in relatively shallow water.

NREL is eyeballing deeper waters for exploitation, where floating wind turbine technology is required. That’s a relatively new development in the offshore wind field, but NREL sees commercial viability on the horizon.

“Current trends indicate that we can make these systems reliable and cost-competitive, positioning offshore wind to expand and diversify the U.S. portfolio of renewable energy resources,” NREL noted.

The difference between fixed and floating is significant. According to NREL, about 58% of US exploitable offshore wind resources are in water of 60 meters deep or more, where floating turbines are required.

Population trends also come into play, in terms of federal policies that support offshore wind development. Despite the threat of rising sea levels, the US population is increasingly concentrated in coastal areas. That means land is at a premium, making massive new infrastructure difficult to site. Offshore wind provides a solution.

A Tall Order For Offshore Wind

With just one tiny little offshore wind farm currently spinning away off the coast of Rhode Island, the US has a lot of catching up to do.

On the bright side, costs are dropping rapidly, largely due to economies of scale and supply chain maturation.

“In just a couple years, offshore prices have dropped from $200 per megawatt-hour (MWh) to roughly $75 per MWh, while turbine rotors have grown in size to 170 m with an average capacity of up to 9.5 MW,” NREL says.

On the not-so-bright side, the technology needs to improve before costs can drop into the cost-competitive zone.

“Only with continued innovation and new strategies can offshore wind overcome challenges ranging from turbine system size and complexity to utility-scale grid integration, environmental impacts, and the effects of wind wake blockage, meteorological, and ocean conditions,” NREL notes.

Beyond the 15 Megawatt Offshore Wind Turbine

That’s a pretty tall order, but NREL has been working on an international scale with more than 20 organizations on various aspects of the problem.

One of the big challenges is turbine size, and to that end NREL has partnered with the International Energy Agency on an open-source model for a 15-megawatt offshore turbine that can apply to both fixed and floating platforms.

That’s quite a bit more ambitious than today’s generation of 10-12 megawatt turbines, but small potatoes compared to the future goal of a 20-watt offshore wind turbine.

Floating Offshore Wind Turbines: The Race Is On!

Here in the US, California is the logical leader for floating turbines, but Maine has been scoping out both fixed and floating offshore technology in Scotland, so it looks like we have a horse race.

Meanwhile, isn’t it odd that the US Department of Energy has been continuing to push the envelope on renewable energy all this time?

From the perspective of a fossil fuel stakeholder, having a federal agency help crush the domestic market for fossil-sourced electricity is bad enough, but to make matters worse the US government has been instrumental in pushing the renewable energy transition globally, which also kills off the export market, too.

I know, right? Weird!

If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Follow me on Twitter.

Image (cropped): “NREL research is helping make floating offshore wind platforms for use in deep water feasible. This graphic illustrates various water depths and the types of platforms that work best in those depths. Graphic by Josh Bauer, NREL.”

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