U.S. Accelerates Offshore Wind Projects

U.S. offshore wind project map
U.S. offshore wind project map.
(Click for larger image.)

Building on the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above strategy for developing domestic energy resources, the U.S. Department of Energy has announced seven awards for offshore wind projects in Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Virginia. The projects, in the design, engineering, and deployment stage, are intended to accelerate the country’s offshore wind energy profile that has so far seen limited progress. The intention is that these projects, situated in both state and federal waters, will reach commercial operation by 2017.

In making the announcement, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu commented, “The United States has tremendous untapped clean energy resources, and it is important for us to develop technologies that will allow us to utilize those resources in ways that are economically viable. Today’s announcement of awards to the first offshore wind projects in the U.S. paves the way to a cleaner, more sustainable and more diverse domestic energy portfolio that develops every source of American energy.”

The potential for U.S. offshore wind energy is enormous, more than 4,000 gigawatts according to the DOE. Yet, as noted in a report commissioned by the Department and conducted by the group Navigant Consulting, there are currently no grid-connected U.S. projects in operation or even in the construction phase. In comparison, Europe deployed 3 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity between 2007 and 2011, with more than 1.25 gigawatts in 2010. China is also making advances, with more than 200 megawatts already deployed.

There are sound economic reasons to pursue offshore wind energy in the United States. The Navigant report mentioned earlier suggests that a robust offshore wind industry could support 200,000 manufacturing, construction, operation, and supply chain jobs nationwide, and drive more than $70 billion in annual investments by 2030.

Onshore wind energy has already proven to be technically and economically successful. In 2011, there was more than $14 billion invested in new land-based wind projects, producing 32% of all new electric capacity in the United States. Domestic factories and workers that may otherwise sit idle are now busy producing wind turbines and all of the associated hardware and services. Adding offshore components to this mix would further drive national economic growth.

As part of the Department of Energy’s award plan, each of the target projects will receive up to $4 million to complete their engineering, design, and permitting phases. The Department will then select three projects to each receive up to $47 million over four years for siting, construction, and installation.

While there are various and multiple technical challenges in deploying and maintaining offshore wind turbines, issues beyond those encountered with land-based projects, the Energy Department’s investment should aid in overcoming those obstacles and see grid-connected utility-scale turbines in U.S. waters in the near future.

Read Offshore Wind Energy Cost Modeling from Amazon.