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Outlook for Offshore Wind Energy in the US

December 13, 2010

This fall, the National Renewable Energy Lab released a much anticipated report that comprehensively assessed the outlook for offshore wind power in the US.  There’s lots of interesting information including a full assessment of the global offshore wind industry, resource assessments and updates on projects in the US, supply chain analysis, and an overview of current technologies. 

With the continuing progress of the Lake Erie offshore wind project near Cleveland, the report provides background on the economic and technological landscape for those interested in the offshore wind industry.    

Most of the global activity in offshore wind is centered in Europe where nearly 2,300 MW of capacity (a little bit larger than two fossil fuel plants) is currently installed of which 1,041 MW have been installed in the United Kingdom, 664 MW in Denmark, and 247 in the Netherlands.  China has recently completed construction of the 102 MW Donghai bridge project and plans to build many more MW of capacity.  In total, there are 2,377 MW of installed capacity globally with approximately 54,000 MW of projects in the permitting stage, approved, or under construction.  The US has about 2,000 MW in some stage of development.

In total the US has over 4,000 GW of gross wind resource, roughly 4 times the total generating capacity of the entire US electricity grid, assuming that wind turbines could be placed in all waters with wind generating resources of 7 m/sec.  The total resource available taking into account technological, siting, and socioeconomic issues is estimated to be about 60% lower.  As part of the DOE report, 20% wind by 2030, 54 GW of offshore wind were included in the overall resource development.  In addition to the well know Cape Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts, there are developments proposed in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Georgia, Texas, Rhode Island and the Ohio project off the coast of Lake Erie.  

As for the technological status of offshore wind turbines, the currently deployed design configurations are adapted from land-based turbines with modifications for the marine environment.  These modifications include strengthening of the tower to withstand wave loading and pressurized nacelles and environmental controls to protect essential components from corrosion.  Offshore wind turbine capacity is also greater than land based generation with capacity ranging from 2 – 5 MW.  

Siemens, Vestas, GE, Repower Systems, Multibrid, Sinovel, and BARD are all currently active suppliers of offshore wind turbines.  With the amount of installed capacity and large number of projects in the development pipeline, a strong supply chain has been built up in Europe.  Since offshore turbines are larger than their land based counterparts, a large portion of the installed cost is for shipping of key components like blades and towers.  Furthermore, manufacturing offshore turbine components in existing land-based turbine facilities can be expensive.  These core drivers are identified as likely reasons that OEMs will build new manufacturing facilities as more projects are included in the development pipeline. 

All in all, there is lots of info in the NREL US offshore wind assessment, too much for one blog post!  If you find something that catches your attention, let me know in the comments and I would be happy to follow up with more discussion.