US tries to fire-up mighty offshore wind energy projects

$50 million in research funding, targeted effort might jump start offshore wind energy development

The US government today took a bold step toward perhaps finally getting some offshore wind energy development going with $50 million in investment money and promise of renewed effort to develop the energy source.  

The Department of the Interior and Department of Energy have teamed on what they call the joint National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States.  The plan focuses on overcoming three key challenges that have made offshore wind energy practically non-existent in the US: the relatively high cost of offshore wind energy; technical challenges surrounding installation, operations, and grid interconnection; and the lack of site data and experience with project permitting processes.

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In support of this the plan the DOE announced three projects that will be funded up to $50.5 million over 5 years to develop breakthrough offshore wind energy technology and to reduce specific market barriers to its deployment:

  • Technology Development (up to $25 million over 5 years): DOE will support the development of innovative wind turbine design tools and hardware to provide the foundation for a cost-competitive and world-class offshore wind industry in the United States. Specific activities will include the development of open-source computational tools, system-optimized offshore wind plant concept studies, and coupled turbine rotor and control systems to optimize next-generation offshore wind systems.
  • Removing Market Barriers (up to $18 million over 3 years): DOE will support baseline studies and targeted environmental research to characterize key industry sectors and factors limiting the deployment of offshore wind. Specific activities will include offshore wind market and economic analysis; environmental risk reduction; manufacturing and supply chain development; transmission planning and interconnection strategies; optimized infrastructure and operations; and wind resource characterization.
  • Next-Generation Drivetrain (up to $7.5 million over 3 years): DOE will fund the development and refinement of next-generation designs for wind turbine drivetrains, a core technology required for cost-effective offshore wind power.

Meanwhile, the DOI said it would identified four Wind Energy Areas offshore that uses appropriate designated areas, coordinated environmental studies, large-scale planning and expedited approval processes to speed offshore wind energy development.   The areas, on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore Delaware (122 square nautical miles), Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia, will receive early environmental reviews that will help to lessen the time required for review, leasing and approval of offshore wind turbine facilities.

The department said that by March it expects to identify Wind Energy Areas off of North Atlantic states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and launch additional NEPA environmental reviews for those areas.  A similar process will occur for South Atlantic region, namely North Carolina, this spring, the agency stated.  Under the National Offshore Wind Strategy, the Department of Energy is pursuing a scenario that includes deployment of deploying 10 gigawatts of offshore wind generating capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030.

In a report last fall, the DOE said that if wind is ever to be a significant part of the energy equation in this country we'll need to take it offshore - into the deep oceans.  Large offshore wind objects could harness about more than 4,000 GW of electricity according to the DOE.

The DOE noted that while the United States has not built any offshore wind projects about 20 projects representing more than 2,000 MW of capacity are in the planning and permitting process. Most of these activities are in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, although projects are being considered along the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Coast. The deep waters off the West Coast, however, pose a technology challenge for the near term.

"Although Europe now has a decade of experience with offshore wind projects in shallow water, the technology essentially evolved from land-based wind energy systems. Significant opportunities remain for tailoring the technology to better address key differences in the offshore environment. These opportunities are multiplied when deepwater floating system technology is considered, which is now in the very early stages of development," the report states.

Last year Google said it wants a big part of the energy that could be generated from offshore wind farms.  The company said it inked "an agreement to invest in the development of a backbone transmission project off the Mid-Atlantic coast that offers a solid financial return while helping to accelerate offshore wind development-so it's both good business and good for the environment. The new project can enable the creation of thousands of jobs, improve consumer access to clean energy sources and increase the reliability of the Mid-Atlantic region's existing power grid."

The project, known as the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) backbone will be built across 350 miles of ocean from New Jersey to Virginia and will be able to connect 6,000MW of offshore wind turbines. That's equivalent to 60% of the wind energy that was installed in the entire country last year and enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households, Google stated.

 "The AWC backbone will be built around offshore power hubs that will collect the power from multiple offshore wind farms and deliver it efficiently via sub-sea cables to the strongest, highest capacity parts of the land-based transmission system. This system will act as a superhighway for clean energy. By putting strong, secure transmission in place, the project removes a major barrier to scaling up offshore wind, an industry that despite its potential, only had its first federal lease signed last week and still has no operating projects in the U.S.," Google stated.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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