What's next for offshore wind in the U.S.?

September 22, 2017 by Sarah Fecht, Earth Institute, Columbia University, Columbia University
What’s next for offshore wind in the U.S.?
Rhode Island’s Block Island Wind Farm is the only operating offshore wind facility currently operating in the U.S., but experts are optimistic that this renewable energy source will grow rapidly. Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab

Wind farms installed off the coasts of the U.S. could potentially generate more than 2,000 gigawatts of clean, carbon-free energy. That's about twice as much electricity as Americans currently consume. But so far, only the 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm off Rhode Island is operating, and America is falling dramatically behind on offshore wind. What's holding us back, and why is there reason to hope for a better future?

On Monday evening, panel of business leaders, policy makers, advocates and opponents gathered to discuss these questions and more. The event was organized by the Sabin Center for Climate Law, part of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, in honor of Climate Week NYC.

If we continue relying on fossil fuels to power our homes and our cars, the world could see a six-degree rise in global temperatures by the end of the century, warned Michael Gerrard, environmental law practitioner and director of the Sabin Center. Under these conditions, some parts of the country will warm by as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and many states will experience 50 days a year with temperatures above 100 degrees. That's bad for people, crops, and the water supply. Plus, the seas could rise by up to six feet, drowning critical infrastructure.

To avoid these extreme conditions, we need to cut our carbon emissions, said Gerrard, and he identified three key ways to do that: first, we need to increase energy efficiency, so that our gadgets use less electricity; second, we need to de-carbonize the electricity supply by replacing with such as wind and solar; and third, we should convert our cars to rely on our future, de-carbonized electricity supply. Putting offshore to work is one important element to making this plan work.

"In order to meet our climate objectives, we need an utterly massive increase in the amount of renewable energy capacity in the United States," says Gerrard.

But it won't be easy. Since 2001, developers have been trying to get permission to install the 468-megawatt Cape Wind off the coast of Massachusetts. After more than 14 years of going through the processes, a lawsuit in 2015 left the plan "dead in the water"—indicating that the processes of siting and approving offshore wind farms aren't working, says Gerrard. Yet in order to significantly de-carbonize by 2050, the U.S. would need to install between 4 and 37 Cape Wind-sized facilities every year.

Some proposals are being considered off the coasts of New Jersey, Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York, but it takes years for offshore wind farms to get approval, begin construction, and start operating. After 11 years of negotiations, the South Fork Wind Farm finally won approval to build off the coast of New York in 2017, but the 90-megawatt farm isn't expected to come online until 2022. "It isn't unreasonable to think that offshore wind will always take several years to install," said Doreen Harris, director of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).

Anne Reynolds, executive director for the Alliance for Clean Energy New York, agrees. "It's going to take a very long time," she says, "so we need some things to happen soon"—such as finding new areas where offshore wind farms would be appropriate.

What’s next for offshore wind in the U.S.?
High wind speeds make the East Coast “the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind.” Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab

That's one of the things NYSERDA is working on. The organization is conducting studies and surveys to seek out new sites for offshore wind development, create guidelines for developers, and figure out how New York can best support offshore wind development.

The Sabin Center, too, is developing legal pathways to speed up this process.

But while many hope to cut through the red tape, others, including Reynolds, reiterate the need for a rigorous environmental review process.

"There needs to be significant amounts of baseline data collection," said Edward Anthes-Washburn, director of the Port of New Bedford in Massachusetts. "As turbines are put up, there needs to be a lot of study about what impact it might have." He's concerned about the effects wind farms will have on New Bedford's commercial fishing, which is not just important to the local economy but to the identity of the community. The city is actually suing the company behind the South Fork Wind Farm because of its proposal to build in vital scallop fishing grounds. But Anthes-Washburn does think that fisherman can coexist with offshore wind developers—if they're engaged in the right way. For example, he suggested, in addition to considering the fishing industry in their siting decisions, they can make sure wind farms are fisherman-friendly by burying transmission cables and ensuring that the windmills are spaced so that boats can move through.

Offshore wind still faces many challenges—developers need to find ways to store this intermittent resource and integrate it into existing, outdated electricity grids. But there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic, said Katherine Kennedy, director of the Energy and Transportation Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Up and down the East Coast, she says, states are committing to developing , whether they're led by Democrats or Republicans. Offshore wind is unifying labor groups and local business organizations with environmentalists as well as other stakeholders who don't always agree on everything.

Plus, the costs are going down. Lars Sunde from Statoil said that nowadays, the cost of a 10 megawatt turbine is not much more than a 2.5 megawatt turbine, and the installation is becoming easier.

In Europe, offshore wind power costs 7.6 per kilowatt-hour. (For comparison, natural gas costs about 5 cents in the U.S.) That's down by 50 percent compared to a few years ago, said Harris. "You see the results and you think it couldn't get any lower, and then in the next round it does. We don't know when it will bottom out."

"A few years ago, you might have thought that offshore was a pipe dream," says Kennedy, "but we're making tremendous progress."

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WillieWard
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 22, 2017
Wind farms are neither clean nor carbon-free, for each installed-gigawatt of intermittent energy it's needed a gigawatt of reliable energy from fossil fuels to keep lights on when wind is not blowing. Wind has capacitor factor around 30% so the remaining 70-80% is provided by fossil fuels.
Wind/solar farms are fossil-addicted parasites, bird-choppers/landscape-destroyers, that are helping in nothing to curb CO2 emissions even after four trillions of dollars spent worldwide.
434a
5 / 5 (2) Sep 22, 2017
Wind farms are neither clean nor carbon-free, for each installed-gigawatt of intermittent energy it's needed a gigawatt of reliable energy from fossil fuels to keep lights on when wind is not blowing. Wind has capacitor factor around 30% so the remaining 70-80% is provided by fossil fuels.
Wind/solar farms are fossil-addicted parasites, bird-choppers/landscape-destroyers, that are helping in nothing to curb CO2 emissions even after four trillions of dollars spent worldwide.


I have demand for 1000 Megawatts of electricity at peak demand.
I already have fossil fuel capacity to produce 1000 Megawatts of electricty to cover that peak demand.
I add 1000 Megawatts of renewal generating capacity to cover that peak demand.

How much additional fossil fuel capacity do I need?

Answer. None, I already have it.

How much less fossil fuels am I consuming.

30%, you said it yourself.
WillieWard
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 22, 2017
How much less fossil fuels am I consuming.
In terms of "Energy Returned on Investment(EROI)" wind can hardly surpass the economically-viable threshold(worse yet with energy storage) which means that intermittent renewables barely can payback/repay the energy used from fossil fuels to manufacture/mine/transport/install/repair/recycle their components and to compensate intermittencies.
Wind is practically useless in terms of CO2 reductions, a huge waste of money and a tremendous ecological impact for almost nothing.
https://blogs-ima...gure.jpg
http://rameznaam....ydro.png
I already have fossil fuel capacity to produce 1000 Megawatts of electricty to cover that peak demand.
"Parasites that require a host."
"All renewables are parasitic on reliable fossil hosts that cost less"
Ban fossil fuels and wind/solar die.
aksdad
1 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2017
What's holding us back

It's friggin' expensive, that's what.

Roughly 4 times more expensive than onshore wind and natural gas, up to twice as expensive as nuclear. It's the most expensive method of large scale power generation yet devised.

https://en.wikipe...y_source

All else being equal, Expensive means "not gonna happen". Which means there's great hope for the future as more practical, efficient and inexpensive methods of power generation are developed instead.
Eikka
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 24, 2017
In Europe, offshore wind power costs 7.6 per kilowatt-hour. (For comparison, natural gas costs about 5 cents in the U.S.)


That's a false comparison. The 5 cents for natural gas is the retail price, while the 7.6 cents for wind power is the producer price.

https://www.eia.g...us_m.htm
Dollars per 1000 cu-ft
Residential price: $15.98 (5.45 c/kWh)
Industrial price: $4.09 (1.39 c/kWh)

The residential/industrial prices already include the cost of delivery and infrastructure, whereas the quoted wind power prices do not. If you add the cost of transmission and backup capacity, the final cost is more than doubled.

The large energy users in the industry are not going to buy wind power at around 16 cents where they can use natural gas for 10% the price.
Eikka
3 / 5 (4) Sep 24, 2017
I have demand for 1000 Megawatts of electricity at peak demand.
I already have fossil fuel capacity to produce 1000 Megawatts of electricty to cover that peak demand.
I add 1000 Megawatts of renewal generating capacity to cover that peak demand.

How much additional fossil fuel capacity do I need?


You can't define the problem that narrowly. You can't build just to "cover that peak demand", because your renewables will produce off-peak as well and you can't just toss that energy away without taking a huge loss.

The renewable energy you build will displace both peak capacity and baseload capacity, and where it displaces baseload capacity it actually pushes more efficient powerplants out of business and replaces them with more peaking powerplants.

The renewables in effect prevent you from using co-generation and combined cycle plants, and displaces them with fast turbines and diesel engines. This means replacing up to 80% efficient generation with ~25% efficient.
Eikka
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2017
That is generally the reason why wind power can't expand beyond about 10-20% of the total energy demand.

Suppose in your grid, 50% of the demand is baseload and 50% is variable on top of that. To build wind power, you have to assume that it will produce full power at the bottom of the demand curve, which means the maximum amount you can build is 50% of your demand.

Now, depending on whether you're building on- or off-shore, whether you have good or bad locations, the capacity factor is going to be between 20-50% and therefore the maximum actual use you get out of the turbines is between 10-25% of your total energy demand. At that point all the other electricity production in the grid will be load-following capacity.

For countries or states which exceed this fraction and/or don't want to displace their baseload capacity for efficiency reasons, they have to export the wind power to other markets. Now the problem is, what if that other market is doing the same back?

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