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floating offshore wind turbines Pacific Coast
The US Interior Department is plowing full steam ahead with Pacific Coast leases for floating offshore wind farms (image courtesy of US DOE).

Clean Power

US Interior Dept. Pokes Sleeping Offshore Wind Giant As Renewables Take Charge

The US Interior Department is plowing full steam ahead with Pacific Coast leases for floating offshore wind farms.

The International Energy Agency had some encouraging news to tell about global warming this week. Its data shows that renewable energy and EVs are beginning to squeeze fossil emissions down. The US Department of the Interior also chimed in with the launch of the first ever offshore wind lease program for the Pacific Coast, which will help ratchet up the pace of clean power even more.

All The Good News About Renewables & Electric Vehicles, Too

First, the bad news: global greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. The good news is that they are not expected to rise as much as they might have, at least not this year, and at least not according to the International Energy Agency.

International Energy Agency’s latest analysis, the year-over-year growth in emissions will come in at “just under” 1%. That’s a strong contrast to last year’s jump of 6%. This was the picture just one year ago, as described by EIA:

Global CO2 emissions from energy combustion and industrial processes1 rebounded in 2021 to reach their highest ever annual level. A 6% increase from 2020 pushed emissions to 36.3 gigatonnes (Gt), an estimate based on the IEA’s detailed region-by-region and fuel-by-fuel analysis, drawing on the latest official national data and publicly available energy, economic and weather data.”

The 2022 figure looks pretty good in comparison, but not just because it’s a lot smaller. After all, that could be attributed to a slowdown in the global economy.

For 2022, IEA took the increased demand for coal into account, as a consequence of Russia’s brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. According to its analysis, the difference is that renewable energy and EVs are finally beginning to push fossil energy out of the global economy to a significant degree.

“The rise in global CO2 emissions this year would be much larger — more than tripling to reach close to 1 billion tonnes — were it not for the major deployments of renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles (EVs) around the world,” IEA explained.

US Offshore Wind Giant Is Still Asleep…

The IEA report is especially encouraging, considering that most nations haven’t yet begun to scratch the surface of their renewable energy resources.

The US wind industry is a case in point. The domestic onshore wind industry has been booming among individual states, with Texas taking the lead, but it could be booming so much more were it not for roadblocks against new interstate transmission lines.

The US offshore wind industry has fared even worse. Almost the whole Atlantic coast is suitable for the familiar fixed-platform turbines, due to its relatively shallow waters. A string of energy-hungry cities hugging the coastline is another big plus.

The prize is a massive 22 gigawatts in zero emission electricity. And yet, other nations have plunged ahead while the US has barely gotten started on the Atlantic coast.

An Obama-era attempt to kickstart the industry was dragged down by several Republican governors in coastal states (you know who you are) allied with fossil energy stakeholders (they know who they are). President Trump, whose distaste for turbines is notorious, also had a hand in slowing down the pace of development.

…And Now It’s Awake

Somewhat weirdly, the Interior Department continued to fine-tune a new, streamlined offshore wind leasing process all throughout the Trump Administration, with the aim of speeding up offshore wind development.

The White House eventually got wind of the effort, so to speak, and tried to quash it. They did succeed in delaying the first Atlantic Coast project in the new pipeline, Vineyard Wind in Massachusetts. However, Vineyard ultimately got the last laugh. The delay enabled the developer to switch gears and take advantage of the latest improvements in turbine technology, potentially leading to lower construction costs.

Now the Interior Department is leasing Atlantic Coast offshore areas hand over fist, though the offshore wind industry is still facing headwinds. Even with climate friendly Joe Biden in the Oval Office, blowback from fossil energy stakeholders is still happening.

Nevertheless, the momentum is with the Atlantic Coast wind industry. With few exceptions, Atlantic Coast states are jockeying for the pole position in turbine manufacturing and related fields.

Now it’s time for the Pacific Coast, which is a different kettle of fish. Instead of political opposition, the wind industry faces — or was facing — the challenge of placing wind turbines in waters that are too deep for conventional fixed-platform wind turbines.

That’s not a problem any more, now that floating turbine technology has hit the market (lots more coverage here).

The Biden Administration, for one, seems convinced that the technology is ready for prime time. Early this week, the Interior Department announced that the next offshore wind lease auction will take place on December 6, and it will be for the Pacific Coast.

This will be the first-ever offshore wind lease sale on America’s west coast and the first-ever U.S. sale to support potential commercial-scale floating offshore wind energy development,” the Interior Department enthused. “This sale will be critical to achieving the Biden-Harris administration’s deployment goals of 30 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy by 2030 and 15 GW of floating offshore wind energy by 2035.”

More Good News For The US Offshore Wind Industry

The Interior Department is also eyeballing the potential for placing turbines in the Gulf of Mexico, so stay tuned for more on that. Meanwhile, the Biden Administration is supporting the floating turbine industry with something called the Floating Offshore Wind Shot.

The program is part of the Energy Department’s new Energy Earthshots approach to accelerating clean technology, modeled on the famous Moonshot initiative that put US astronauts on the moon ahead of the competition.

“Floating offshore wind is key to transitioning dense population centers to clean energy, and would also mean thousands of jobs in wind manufacturing, installation, and operations,” the Energy Department explains, adding that the goal of the program is “to reduce the cost of floating offshore wind energy by at least 70%, to $45 per megawatt-hour by 2035 for deep sites far from shore.”

Apparently, size matters when one is going about the business of reducing the cost of platforms for floating turbines. The Energy Department anticipates that the next generation of floating turbines will be among the largest structures ever constructed by human hands.

That will be a game-changer for the US, and for the global economy, too. The Energy Department estimates that two-thirds of US offshore wind capacity is currently locked out of reach, where the water is too deep for fixed-platform turbines.

It will probably stay locked out of reach if another Trump-style Republican takes office in 2024, so don’t start counting your clean power chickens yet. That will be up to the voting public when the next presidential election cycle comes around.

Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.

Image: Floating offshore wind turbines and related infrastructure courtesy of 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. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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