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US offshore wind industry chugs along as South Korea grabs media spotlight with plans for world's largest floating offshore wind array (image courtesy of US DOE).

Clean Power

USA Falling Way, Way, Way Behind In Floating Offshore Wind Race

Global floating offshore wind race heats up as South Korea hatches plans to beat the US to the punch with world’s largest array.

File this one under O for One more reason for Congress to spend more taxpayer dollars to promote the US green energy industry. South Korea only has 8,640 miles of coastline and it is already moving forward with plans to build the world’s largest floating offshore wind farm. Meanwhile the US weighs in at 153,645 kilometers and it barely has any steel in the water to show since 2010, when the Obama administration first tried to organize coastal states into a domestic wind industry. What gives?

Who Will Build The World’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm?

To be fair, South Korea is not exactly a world leader in offshore wind at the moment, but it looks like they’re going to fix that.

Last February, the nation announced plans for a new offshore wind initiative totaling up to 8.2 gigawatts in capacity. As reported by Reuters among others, that will dwarf the UK’s massive 1.12 gigawatt Hornsea 1 wind farm.

South Korea estimates that its world-leading offshore wind endeavor will cost 48.5 trillion won (about US$43.2 billion). A consortium of private firms will shoulder the lion’s share and the South Korean government will chip in 0.9 trillion won, which is no small potatoes.

As for the US, the only commercial offshore wind farm operating in the US today is Rhode Island’s 11-turbine Block Island wind farm, which has a capacity of 30 megawatts.

Then there’s Dominion’s experimental two-turbine wind turbine array off the Virginia coast, but last time we checked that was 12 megawatts.

Oh…my.

Green Hydrogen For The Largest Floating Offshore Wind Farm In The World

To put all this in context, leading global manufacturers are beginning to decarbonize their supply chains and energy sources, partly because governments are forcing them to do it, and partly because consumers are demanding it. Using clean energy to make stuff is becoming a thing.

Nations that insist on clinging to fossil energy will leave their manufacturers holding the bag as the global marketplace moves on, which means that jobs will be moving on, too.

Low-cost wind and solar energy have also begun to push decarbonization into the vast, sprawling global hydrogen and ammonia supply chains, and South Korea is angling for a share of the green H2 pie in its previously announced Donghae 1 floating offshore wind farm.

The project first crossed the CleanTechnica radar back in 2019, when Equinor joined a consortium with Korea National Oil Corporation and the Korean energy firm East-West Power with the aim of getting the  200-megawatt wind project off the drawing board.

Donghae 1 took a big step forward last fall, when a branch of the Doosan Group signed on to provide the wind turbine generators. Hyundai Heavy Industries also came into the fold as supplier of the floating wind turbine platforms.

Last week Donghae 1 passed a key feasibility study conducted by the Korean Development Institute, and a brand new twist occurred when KNOC announced that green hydrogen is part of the plan.

Our friends over at Maritime Executive have the low-down. The idea is to build a 100-megawatt green hydrogen plant at the site, deploying electricity from the floating wind farm to coax hydrogen out of seawater.

In another interesting twist, Maritime Executive notes that the wind-and-hydrogen complex will be located near an existing gas field. That seems to indicate a role for fossil energy, though the more likely explanation is to leverage existing gas infrastructure and development areas for new green energy.

Offshore Wind & The Green Hydrogen Economy Of The Future

Futurists once dreamed of a future in which hydrogen does all the heavy lifting. After all, hydrogen is everywhere. The tricky part is getting it to separate from wherever it is. Currently, natural gas is the source of most of the global hydrogen supply, with China chipping in a measure of coal-sourced H2.

That little thing about climate catastrophe makes it imperative to find alternative sources for hydrogen that don’t involve melting the planet.

Wastewater, solid waste, biogas, and recycled plastics are also coming into play, but right now water is the focus of most of the green hydrogen activity.

As for who’s gonna use all the green hydrogen, fuel for rockets and fuel cell vehicles is just one area. Hydrogen has a startling number of uses in the modern world, fertilizer production being a big one. Then there’s food processing, pharmaceuticals, and personal care items among other areas.

That’s the low hanging fruit. The pressure is on heavy industries to decarbonize, and it looks like green hydrogen is finding a place there, too.

In one hint of things to come, auto manufacturers are putting the squeeze on steel makers to cut their carbon footprints, and some are already setting the wheels in motion to convert to green hydrogen.

Wait, What About Onshore Wind?

CleanTechnica has been spilling quite a bit of ink on offshore wind these days, especially as offshore activity picks up along the Atlantic Coast, but here in the US most of the 50 states are landlocked.

With that in mind, let’s take a quick look at six US states from various regions of the US that are reportedly each sending a U.S. Senator to meet with President Joe Biden on Thursday to talk about infrastructure.

At first glance the six states — West Virginia, Wyoming, Missouri, Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi — don’t have much in common, except they are mainly landlocked, which would seem to indicate that offshore wind is not on the list of unmet infrastructure needs.

The lone exception is Mississippi, which has a toehold in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where the Energy Department is sniffing out opportunities for offshore wind. However, it looks like Louisiana already has dibs in that area, including the green hydrogen angle.

Something could be afoot in the area of onshore wind power, though. None of the six states is particularly known for leadership in the US wind industry, but that could change if a new generation of taller wind turbine towers enables more areas of the US to pluck more wind energy from higher altitudes.

The creation of new construction jobs is only part of the angle. As other states decarbonize their energy profiles, manufacturers looking to set up shop are going to focus their dollars on states where zero emission energy is cheap and abundant.

In any case, offshore wind is not a necessary ingredient for green hydrogen. Aside from onshore wind farms, that thing about waste-to-hydrogen makes it possible for any municipality to start churning out a steady supply of green hydrogen, regardless of whether or not they have ocean access.

States — and nations — that fall behind in the clean power race are risking a ripple effect that could leaving them bleeding manufacturing jobs into the next generation.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: Offshore wind economic impacts via US Department of Energy.


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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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