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Energy on our Horizon
Along the U.S. coastline lies an energy resource with the power to create unparalleled jobs and economic growth - offshore wind.
Offshore wind is a golden opportunity for growth in the U.S. job market. The U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that each Megawatt (MW) of offshore wind power leads to the creation of 20.7 direct jobs. The force multiplier of offshore wind energy is evident, and a published report by AWEA estimates up to 30,000 MW of capacity, 83,000 jobs, and $25 billion of annual economic output by 2030.
Since the completion of the Block Island Wind Farm in 2016 sixteen more lease areas have been approved along the East Coast. As of January 2021, there are 17 offshore wind leases in the U.S. representing 1,742,252 acres. A staggering 14,300 MW of offshore wind development are already under contract across ten states. The construction of offshore wind farms will create more jobs, provide more clean energy, and offer more reliable ways to power our nation.
Just four 8-megawatt offshore wind turbines working at 50% capacity can produce enough electricity to power 13,500 homes. The energy provided by those four 8-megawatt turbines offset the carbon emissions of 7,000 gas-powered vehicles. Currently 10-megawatt turbines are now the standard industry size with 12-megawatt turbines along the way. With more than two-thirds of the US population living along our Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf Coasts, offshore wind can provide reliable and plentiful electricity to the largest demand areas at an affordable cost.
Around the world wind turbines are empowering communities and reducing emissions. As of 2019, Europe had more than 15,000 MW of offshore wind power installed, with 3,642 grid-connected turbines across various wind projects in 15 countries. Offshore wind energy is playing an increasingly important role in the way we power our communities.
Video Clip © Deepwater Wind.
HOW IT WORKS
The Department of Energy demonstrates how an offshore wind turbine works. Wind turbines operate when the blades catch the wind moving over the ocean, which generates kinetic energy that turns a shaft. The shaft spins a generator which converts the kinetic energy into electricity. As wind speeds increase, more electricity is generated.
Ocean winds are unobstructed, powerful, and ideal for wind farms. Moreover, ocean winds blow at higher sustained speeds and for longer periods of time offshore than on land. This means that an offshore wind turbine has a higher capacity factor, or energy potential, than if it was built on land. However, the intermittent nature of offshore wind energy may lead some to think that turbines are bad for the electricity grid because the wind isn't always blowing. The reality is that our power grid can benefit from multiple energy sources to cope with fluctuations in demand. Offshore wind combined with land-based wind and solar energy will be able to satisfy a large portion of our energy demands.
The proximity of these offshore wind farms to major population centers means that wind power can contribute to lower transmission fees, less grid congestion, and a better deal for ratepayers.
Block Island Wind Farm © Deepwater Wind
VIEWSHED AND TOURISM
Onlookers often find wind turbines beautiful and awe-inspiring. Research shows that the Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island has increased tourism and been good for business. The turbines sit three miles from shore and visitors pay for guided tours to see the mechanical marvels. A recent study of Airbnb data at Block Island determined that tourism has increased by 19% since the installation of the offshore wind turbines. Recreational fishermen also benefit because the turbine foundations serve as artificial reefs. A single turbine can support several metric tons of shellfish which in turn attract a bounty of fish.
Most wind farms will be much farther from shore. A pilot offshore wind farm was just completed in June of 2020 and the wind turbines sit 20 miles off the coast of Virginia. Maryland's proposed wind farms will be 17 miles at their closest point, and will only be visible on the clearest and driest days. Even then, to the human eye the turbines will look like a toothpicks on the horizon.
In Europe, offshore wind costs for ratepayers decreased by 45% from 2014 to 2018. Technological advances including larger turbine sizes, economies of scale, and a mature supply chain have all contributed to these cost reductions. Lower costs to developers have led to a lower price for ratepayers.
The European cost reduction trend is happening in the United States as well. In 2016, the first offshore wind project - Block Island Wind Farm – had a Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) of 24.4 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). The following year, in May 2017, two Maryland offshore wind projects were awarded at a price of 13 cents per kWh. In 2018, Massachusetts awarded their offshore wind project to Vineyard Wind at the price of 6.5 cents per kWh in 2018. That's a price reduction of 75 percent in just two years. Prices vary from project to project, but the utility scale of offshore wind projects will continue to drive down ratepayer prices. Offshore wind is fast becoming not just an environmentally conscious decision, but - ultimately - an economic one.
Photo Credit: Dennis Schroeder
Offshore wind developers and structural engineers are in constant consultation with turbine suppliers to ensure the strength and resilience of the wind farms. As a result, the entire structure—from foundation to transition piece to tower to turbine to blade—is designed to meet specific storm conditions including hurricanes. As wind speeds increase and exceed the upper threshold of the turbines, the turbines rotate into the direction of the wind and feather their blades. This strategy helps the turbines survive harmful wind speeds. Turbines remain ‘live’ during a storm as they must rotate and face the changing wind direction. Some turbines have emergency back-up power generators as a precaution.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently conducted a study and released the Hurricane Resilient Wind Plant Concept Study. The report outlines how turbines are protected during a hurricane.
A DEEPER DIVE INTO OFFSHORE WIND
Marine Life and Turbine Foundations
US Department of Energy Resources
Bureau of Ocean Management
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