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How Offshore Wind Power is Starting to be Succesful

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windmill-62257Since the first farm was constructed in Denmark over two decades ago, things are starting to picking up for offshore wind. The US, after years of public controversy, is set to put up 14 wind farms. China, trying to maintain their status as global leader in offshore wind technology manufacturing, has taken steps to boost offshore wind development. And the UK, already the world leader in offshore wind power capacity, plans to install even more.

Developing wind power offshore is challenging, to say the least. There are several technical issues to be addressed, and these have driven up costs of putting up wind farms offshore.  However, the bigger issue in the US has been permitting and public opposition. Offshore wind power projects have been planned decades ago in the US but have been opposed because people didn’t wand wind turbines to obstruct their views of the ocean, particularly in Nantucket Sound.

However, there are great arguments for offshore wind power development. Wind offshore tends to be stronger and more consistent because there are no obstructions from mountains, trees and structures and they tend to benefit more from see breezes.  Because of this, the load factor, or the percentage of time that the wind farm is producing power, tends to be higher than that of gas. The load factor in the UK of offshore wind farms was 37.5% while that of onshore farms at 27.9%. But the bigger draw is market factors. Furthermore, potential offshore wind farms tend to be near major cities with high electricity costs and where there is land for onshore wind farms are either ridiculously expensive or unavailable. Also, as we previously featured here in The Green Optimistic, hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Isaac would have been dissipated had there been large wind farms in their respective paths, based on a computer model prepared by a team from Stanford.

Advances in engineering have made the development of offshore wind farms more attractive. Engineering advances such as the development of larger turbines and advances in structural engineering have improved project economics. As a result, offshore wind installation costs have fallen 6% since 2011. Also, special boats have been developed for servicing wind turbines in turbulent seas. This, coupled by improvements in condition monitoring have improved the uptime of wind turbines hence improving wind farm revenue. While the power from offshore wind farms may not yet be cost competitive with fossil fuels, they soon will be as a result of innovations.

The bigger innovation, it seems, comes from cutting bureaucratic red tape. Denmark was able to fast track wind power development by setting up a one-stop-shop. Government support is also a huge factor behind the explosive development of wind power in China. In the US, 11 governors wrote Congress in May of 2009 to ask for federal support for offshore wind development.  Since then, the Department of the Interior launched its “Smart from the Start Initiative” and has since created a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to oversee the permitting and leasing process.

As a result, 14 projects in the US entered “advanced stages” of development, with an aggregate capacity of 4.9 GW. These include Deepwater’s Block Island off Rhode Island and the controversial Cape Wind in Nantucket Sound off the coast of Massachusetts which were already in initial stages of construction. Others projects have either obtained leases, had extensive studies prepared or have signed a power purchase agreement. At least 54 GW of offshore wind power could be connected to the grid by 2030 according to the US Department of Energy.

China, on the other hand, has taken steps to accelerate offshore wind power development. Several projects are scheduled to start this year including the 100-MW Phase II expansion project of Donghai Bridge in Shanghai, Nanri Island in Fujian, as well as the Rudong and Dafeng projects in Jiangsu province.  Furthermore, the government is drawing up the feed in tariff rates for both onshore and offshore wind power, and are expected to release them this year.

The UK is expected to see an expansion of its offshore wind power capacity from 3.7 GW last year to 11 GW by 2020.  This is driver by concerns about energy security and climate change and is supported by government policy and aggressive renewable energy targets.  Offshore wind capacity grew at an average rate of 42.9% from 2006-2013 and is expected to continue expanding at an annual rate of 16.9% until 2020.  In fact, RenewableUK’s Director of External Affairs, Jennifer Webber said that, Wind energy is taking its place as the UK’s new powerhouse, overtaking coal and nuclear as one of the most important resources we have to keep Britain’s lights on. It continues to surpass its own records, and these figures prove that can happen at any time of year.”  All in all, things are soaring for the UK’s offshore wind power industry.

The same may be said of the offshore wind power industry as projects start to take flight all over the globe.

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