The ins and outs of offshore wind energy

July 27, 2020   By Caitlin Cosper

The ins and outs of offshore wind energy

Texas leads the nation in wind energy generation, producing more than 27 percent of the country’s total wind energy. But as wind technology continues to improve, many industry experts and developers are turning their sites to offshore wind options.

So, how do offshore turbines differ from the massive wind farms in Texas? Read on to learn seven things that you may not know about offshore wind energy.

1. The U.S. has a lot of offshore wind potential. With long, sweeping coastlines along its borders, offshore wind could provide plenty of electricity to fulfill the needs of many cities. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that offshore wind in the U.S. has the potential to surpass 2,000 gigawatts of capacity, or 7,200 terawatt-hours annually.

2. Offshore wind turbines are even taller than normal turbines. With turbines, bigger tends to be better. However, land turbines have some limitations, namely environmental concerns, transportation of massive parts, and blocking the views of nearby residents. By building turbines offshore, developers navigate around many of these limitations. Offshore turbines are typically much taller than their onshore counterparts – some stand one-and-a-half times taller than the Washington Monument with blades spanning the length of a football field! With turbine blades of this length, offshore turbines can cover a wider area, increasing their production. And because they are so tall, they reach higher into the atmosphere where wind is stronger and more consistent, leading to an increase in electricity generation.

3. The Department of Energy (DOE) is researching offshore wind. In 2017, the DOE committed $20.5 million to a consortium that would research and develop solutions for issues related to offshore wind, such as the hurricanes that impact the country’s coastlines each year. This consortium also aims to solve broader issues within the industry, including ecological concerns, logistical challenges, and infrastructure development.

4. Offshore wind farms transmit electricity through underwater cables. Offshore wind developers had to figure out a way to move electricity generated at sea to the grid. Their solution: bury cables in the ocean floor. The electricity generated by the turbines moves through these cables to coastal load centers, which prioritize where the energy should go next and distribute it into the electrical grid.

5. Some offshore wind turbines float. Approximately 60 percent of the nation’s offshore wind turbines are located in very deep water. This means conventional foundations connected to the ocean floor aren’t always a viable option. To combat this, developers have created a range of different foundations that suit different locations. Additionally, wind developers have also created floating platforms, including spar-buoy, semi-submersible, and tension leg platforms.

6. Offshore wind farms can provide energy to most Americans. Almost 80 percent of the country’s energy demand occurs in the coastal and Great Lake states – which is also where the majority of Americans live. These states could greatly benefit from offshore wind energy due to location alone.

7. Wind energy offshore is growing in America. In 2016, Deepwater Wind completed the country’s first commercial offshore wind project, which was dubbed the Block Island Wind Farm. The 30-megawatt (MW) wind farm includes five 6-MW GE wind turbines. Since then, about 30 other offshore wind projects have begun development across the country.

As technology and funding for these projects continues to advance, offshore wind farms will likely grow in popularity and could provide more electricity nationwide in the future.

 

Caitlin Cosper is a writer within the energy and power industry. Born in Georgia, she attended the University of Georgia before earning her master’s in English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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