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Friday, March 3, 2017

The Growing Potential of American Offshore Wind


In the coming years, the U.S. is poised to have another renewable energy revolution: offshore wind power. In December, the United State’s first offshore wind farm went online in Rhode Island. Soon the Block Island Farm will not be the only American offshore farm: both New York and New Jersey are on track to install turbines off their coasts. These developments could revolutionize the energy sector and provide thousands of gigawatts of clean power to the U.S. grid.

Onshore wind farms are a critical renewable energy source, but offshore farms benefit from stronger, more reliable wind and can be located near more highly populated coastal cities. Offshore wind power is decades old in many European countries. In 1991, Denmark installed its first offshore wind farm. The farm consisted of eleven 450 kW turbines. Since then, offshore wind turbine capacity has increased at an exponential scale. In 1991, the turbines were 52 meters high with a 0.45 MW capacity. Now, the turbines can be 220 meters high with an 8 MW capacity. These developments make offshore wind cheaper and more efficient.

Denmark has continued to be a leader in offshore wind development. Now its offshore farms meet 40% of the country’s energy needs. Denmark isn’t the only country with significant offshore wind capacity. The first offshore wind farm in the U.K. went online in 2000, and now the country has 29 offshore wind farms that collectively produce over 5 GW, a total of 5% of the U.K.’s electricity demand. Germany has also been an exemplary leader in the offshore wind industry. Currently, Germany has a 3.55 GW capacity and is continuing to grow as more farms go online.

Although offshore wind is a significant source of energy in Europe now, the industry has been slower to develop in the U.S. In December of last year, the first offshore wind farm in the U.S. went online. The farm is off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island and consists of five 6 MW turbines. The project has the capacity to power 17,000 homes and is expected to power the whole island in addition to feeding power back to the mainland grid.

New York and New Jersey are hurrying to catch up. New Jersey is on track to develop its own offshore projects. Two developers are in the process of site assessments, and the first New Jersey site is expected to go online in 2023. The state has predicted that offshore wind has the potential to produce over one thousand megawatts annually. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is also pushing to establish New York’s first offshore wind farm off the coast of Long Island. The future farm would be located off the coast of Montauk, with no visibility from land. This project is just the first of many for New York. Currently, the state plans to have 2,400 MW of offshore wind by 2030.

These projects in Rhode Island, New York, and New Jersey are only the start of the offshore wind industry in the U.S. The Department of Energy (DOE) has estimated that more than 2,000 GW of energy could be accessed in federal and state waters, while the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM) estimates the potential to be about 4,223 GW; or roughly four times the capacity of the current grid.  With 53% of Americans living near coastal cities, if even a fraction of the DOE or BOEM estimates is achieved, offshore wind in the U.S. has the potential to add clean, abundant energy to the grid, provide jobs, and help protect our planet from climate change. To learn more, visit https://www.boem.gov/Offshore-Wind-Energy/.



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