US blusters up $43M to grow off-shore wind energy

DOE once again tries to move along development of off-shore wind technology

The US Department of Energy today said it would spend $43 million over the next five years to speed 41 wind energy projects across 20 states.

The money is expected advance wind turbine design tools and hardware and accelerate the deployment of offshore wind by reducing market barriers such as supply chain development, transmission and infrastructure, the DOE stated.

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According to the DOE, 19 offshore wind technology development projects will receive $26.5 million to address technical challenges and provide the foundation for a cost-competitive offshore wind industry in the United States. Awardees will develop the engineering modeling and analysis tools required to lower overall offshore facility costs and to design the next generation of large-scale turbines optimized for installation and operation in the marine environment. These projects include research and development for innovations in key components such as floating support structures and turbine rotor and control systems that may lead to capital cost reductions of up to 50%.

For example, the Alliance for Sustainable Energy will get $2.7 million to improve computer-aided-engineering tools to design and assess a wide range of floating offshore wind platform concepts and produce an offshore wind farm simulation tool to improve designs by maximizing energy capture and minimizing structural fatigue from wave and wind impacts.  And The Pennsylvania State University will get $1.2 million to develop a computer model "Cyber Wind Facility" to generate data over an entire wind turbine farm on and offshore simulating wind and wave impacts on wind turbine structures, the DOE stated.

The DOE also said 22 market barrier removal projects will receive $16.5 million to research factors limiting the deployment of offshore wind in the nation's coastal and Great Lakes regions. Topic areas include project design factors such as environmental impact assessment and characterization of the offshore wind resource; subjects related to investment and infrastructure development such as categorization of financial risks and long term manufacturing needs and port requirements; and technical offshore wind interface topics such as transmission grid integration, and assessment of potential impact on offshore navigation and communication systems, the DOE stated.

For example, the Biodiversity Research Institute will get $4.5 million to bring together existing data on bird, sea turtle, and marine mammal abundance and movement in the mid-Atlantic, perform baseline surveys of species at high risk to turbine interactions using a variety of technologies, and develop predictive and risk assessment frameworks.  And Navigant Consulting will get $510,000 to develop a comprehensive assessment of the US offshore wind market over three years, providing stakeholders with a roadmap for removing technical, regulatory, financial, economic and workforce development market entry barriers.

This isn't the first DOE project that tries to ignite the wind energy industry.  You may recall that in February it offered up $50 million in investment money and promised a renewed effort to develop wind energy sources. 

At the time it teamed with the Department of the Interior 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.

The DOE noted in 2010 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.

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