Offshore Wind Power Important to Future of Clean Energy Development

Offshore wind power is paramount to the future of clean energy development as the potential is huge. In layman's terms offshore wind power is simply the construction of wind farms on the water which generate electricity from the wind. It can include the ocean as well as inland areas like lakes, fjords and sheltered coastal areas using a fixed bottom technology, although there are also deep water projects that use floating wind turbines.

Offshore Wind Power Important to Future of Clean Energy Development Like This Horns Rev from DONG Energy in Denmark

Offshore wind power is paramount to the future of clean energy development as the potential is huge. In layman’s terms it is simply the construction of wind farms on the water which generate electricity from the wind. It can include the ocean as well as inland areas like lakes, fjords and sheltered coastal areas using a fixed bottom technology, although there are also deep water projects that use floating wind turbines.

The problem with these projects is that they tend to be expensive, costing roughly 2.5 to 3.0 million Euro/MW. The turbines themselves represent only a third to one half of the total costs in the projects today while the rest of the costs come from the infrastructure required, maintenance and oversight of the projects. In 2011, Danish energy company DONG Energy made a claim that these types of projects aren’t yet competitive with fossil fuels, however they estimate that they will be in 15 years. Until that point is reached, government funding, subsidies and other incentives will be required to make the projects more economically feasible. Taking that into account, we still heavily subsidize the fossil fuel industry so why not shift some of that funding over to these types of projects?

Offshore Wind Power

Wind Turbine Diagram

Wind Turbine Diagram

There are several things which can help lower the costs down and make it more economically feasible were released in a report made by a coalition of researchers from universities, industry, and government. The report, titled University Collaboration on Wind Energy made by Cornell University David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future in part concluded the following:

  • Improving wind performance models, including how design conditions and the wind resource are influenced by the presence of other wind farms.
  • Reducing the weight of turbine materials
  • Eliminating problematic gearboxes
  • Turbine load-mitigation controls and strategies
  • Turbine and rotor designs to minimize hurricane and typhoon damage
  • Economic modeling and optimization of costs of the overall wind farm system, including installation, operations, and maintenance
  • Service methodologies, remote monitoring, and diagnostics.

There were other recommendations, however the report’s goal is this:

Our aim is to identify and then enable the research required for this vital initiative to thrive, not to argue for funding to be directed toward particular universities. The overall goals of the proposed collaboration are to:

  • Develop a world-class national research and development program, enabling U.S. industry
    to develop wind power at large scales, both on and off shore.
  • Create analytical and numerical tools for designing next]generation turbine and wind farm
    systems.
  • Bring a large]scale systems engineering approach and discipline to the wind industry.
  • Address environmental and ecological issues that could impede offshore wind energy
    development.
  • Develop science]based public advocacy for offshore wind energy development.
  • Encourage and foster university education in wind energy at the undergraduate and
    graduate levels.

Dutch Wind Farm

Dutch Wind Farm

Europe is by far the worlds leader in this type of energy, and as of 2011, there are currently 49 European wind farms in operation in the coastal waters off Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom, with an operating capacity of 3,294 MW, while another 5,603 MW is currently under construction. More than 100 GW (or 100, 000 MW) of offshore projects are proposed or under development in Europe. The European Wind Energy Association has set a target of 40 GW installed by 2020 and 150 GW by 2030. As of February 2012, Walney Wind Farm in the United Kingdom is the largest offshore wind farm in the world at 367 MW, followed by Thanet (300 MW), which is also in the United Kingdom. Offshore turbines take advantage of wind speeds which are more constant and stronger than their land based counterparts, making the promise of offshore wind power greater, not to mention the vast expanse of water covering the planet.

2011 Offshore capacity under construction in Europe

2011 Offshore capacity under construction in Europe

There are many large European offshore wind farms currently under construction including the Anholt Offshore Wind Farm (400 MW), BARD Offshore 1 (400 MW), Greater Gabbard wind farm (500 MW), Lincs Wind Farm (270 MW), London Array (1000 MW), Sheringham Shoal (317 MW), and the Walney Wind Farm (367 MW).

In the Canadian province of Ontario, they are actively pursuing several proposed locations in the Great Lakes, including the suspended Trillium Power Wind 1 approximately 20 km from shore and over 400 MW in size. Other Canadian projects include the Naikun project off the Pacific west coast.

Currently in the United States there are no offshore wind farms, however leads the world in land-based wind energy capacity according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. There are, however, projects are under development in wind-rich areas of the East Coast, Great Lakes, and Pacific coast. In January 2012, a “Smart from the Start” regulatory approach was introduced by the Obama Administration, designed to expedite the siting process while incorporating strong environmental protections. Specifically, the Department of Interior approved “wind energy areas” off the coast where projects can move much more rapidly through the regulatory approval process. According to the U.S. Department of Energy:

Under conservative assumptions about transmission, fossil fuel supply, and supply chain availability, the United States could feasibly build 54 GW of offshore wind power by 2030. 20% Wind Energy by 2030, U.S. Department of Energy, July 2008.

We, as well as experts realize that this is not the holy grail of energy development, but offshore wind power has an abundant supply of opportunities in our race to limit climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Peace my friends!

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