Offshore Wind Farms 

Offshore Wind Farms in the USA 

Offshore wind farms are one of the cleanest and most efficient sources of electricity that can cater to significant population needs and is economical. Offshore wind energy depends on wind turbines constructed in water in the middle of see or near coastlines. Various offshore projects have been developed or are in the developmental stage in state and federal-owned waters. But how prepared is the U.S. to use water resources and handle conflicts over logistics and other ocean-related issues? 

Current state of Offshore Wind Farms in the USA

Achieving the Biden administration’s offshore wind energy goal of 30 GW by 2030 and 110 GW by 2050 requires long-term economic opportunities such as infrastructure investments, job creation, and port construction.  In 2021, the offshore wind energy capacity contributed up to 368 GW which increased by 20% more as compared to 2020. 

The offshore wind industry is scaling up in the US after the initiative of a wind leasing plan by BOEM to develop and increase the capacity of offshore wind energy areas will lead to the development of 7 offshore farms by 2025. Also, 24 power offtake agreements were recently signed in the US to meet the peak electricity targets of 8 states through offshore wind projects that totaled up to 17,597 MW. 

Another notable advancement is a $1 million investment by NOAA’s sea grant program to understand the impact of offshore wind energy on local economies and maximize its benefits. 

Furthermore, the necessary momentum for offshore wind is advanced by simplifying the permission procedures through the Federal Permitting Improvement & Steering Council. 

Currently, there are a total of 183 offshore wind farms in the US and only two of them are operational: 

  1. Block Island wind farm, Rhode Island- This is America’s first offshore farm operated in 2016, that has a total of 5 turbines and a capacity of 30 megawatts(MW). 
  2. Coastal Virginia offshore wind farm- It became operational in 2020 and has a generation capacity of 12 MW with two turbines. 

Amongst these projects, 19 of them have applied for consent or have received consent. 

Floating offshore wind farms

As the name suggests, floating offshore wind farms are constructed on floating platforms. These structures are attached by flexible anchors, steel cables, and chains in deep seabed areas with the stable force of the wind.

The design is such that it provides buoyancy and stability to the steel and concrete sub-structures on which wind turbines are collectively installed.  

There are four types of floating platforms for wind turbines, and they are subject to the wind turbine’s size, equipment prices, depth of the harbors, wind speed, and manufacturing services.  

  1. Barge: This innovative platform is anchored with heavy plates, and stability is provided through the surfaces in contact with the water. It appears like a boat or ship as regards dimensions. 
  2. Semi-submersible: This concept aims to maximize volume while minimizing surface area. It is in the form of vertical cylinders that are tied together to create the platform. 
  3. Tensioned legs Platform: Under TLP, the design aims to reduce manufacturing costs. It is a uniquely risky model in which the platform does not float after installing the wind turbine.
  4. Spar-buoy: In this concept, weight is positioned at the lowest point. It is a long cylinder-like structure that supports the weight of larger turbines. This design is challenging to manufacture, transport, and install compared to others.

Advantages and disadvantages of offshore wind farms

Some of the advantages of offshore wind farms are described below:

  1. An efficient form of energy: Offshore wind farms are a blessing as uninterrupted stronger wind produces an increased amount of energy through lesser turbines as opposed to onshore turbines. 
  2. Larger turbines: The structure of the offshore turbines is bigger and taller, which leads to capturing an ample amount of wind and generating enormous sustainable energy.
  3. No physical obstruction: Harnessing greater energy from offshore turbines is comparatively easier as they do not hinder land usage. Wind flow is also not obstructed as there are no physical stumbling blocks. 
  4. Less noise pollution: Since offshore wind farms are located far from residential areas, trouble in the form of noise pollution is not a problem to the surrounding environment. 

Certain weighted drawbacks of offshore wind farms are: 

  1. Costly infrastructure: One of the foremost disadvantages is the complex infrastructure and expense associated with the construction, maintenance, and repair of offshore wind farms. These wind farms are prone to hostile environments and destruction from strong hurricanes and storms. 
  2. Impact on the marine ecosystem: The negative effect of offshore wind farms on marine life, the surrounding environment, and wildlife during construction and operation is detrimental. 
  3. Fewer jobs: Additionally, local economies are not benefitted from offshore wind farms as limited job opportunities are available for the local community.  

Challenges to Offshore wind Farms in the U.S.

There is a huge gap between the number of offshore wind farm projects and the number of wind farms approved and installed. As per the department of energy, the USA has more than 2000 G.W. of wind resource potential. Due to offshore wind intensity, it has the potential to generate twice the amount of power as onshore facilities. However, that makes us look into the challenges of the budding U.S. offshore wind sector. 

  1. Foundational difficulties: Manufacturing, designing, and installing wind turbines require measuring water depth, surveying the tower foundation, checking lubrication and alignment levels, etc. It brings the need for jacket structures, a manufacturing issue. The same applies to corrosion, which requires high visibility coatings as the old system can degrade more rapidly. 
  1. Turbine wind blade: Turbine blades can be considered the backbone of this whole wind energy system. It faces risk-related logistical barriers, finding the appropriate materials, especially for light wind blades that are easy to install. Turbine blades present challenges in finding composite elements for light blade manufacturing and avoiding edge erosion due to rain leading to aerodynamic efficiency and comprising the function of bladed. 
  1. Regulatory issues: Laws like the federal national environmental policy act, jones act require an environmental assessment and review of offshore wind projects. Jones act delayed offshore wind development systems by prohibiting foreign ships from entering the U.S. to transport or collect wind turbines. Overcoming these regulatory hurdles will require addressing these trade barriers and having more presence of offshore wind farms. 
  1. Research and development: While wind energy system has grown multi-fold in past years, there’s still a need to research focusing on better aerodynamic interaction and wind power flow through the electricity grid. It also calls for better funding to demonstrate effective turbine technology and deployment barriers along U.S. shores. 
  1. Grid connectivity: Grid interconnection has been one of the things that hold the country in the deployment of offshore projects. The current electric transmission system from offshore projects relies on nuclear power stations far from the cost and few power substations that can’t accommodate enough power generation. 

5 things to know about offshore wind energy

5 astonishing facts and statistics related to offshore wind energy: 

  1. Offshore wind resources are mainly situated close to coastal populations; therefore, shorter transmission lines are used to connect to the power grid. It fulfills the electricity demand of over 80% of Americans living along U.S. coastlines. 
  2. As per the assessment by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory assessment, offshore wind resources can generate more than 4,200 GW or 13,500 terawatt-hours annually. 
  3. According to the 2021 wind market report, offshore wind energy rose 24% compared to last year, totaling up to 35,324 MW. Also, the floating offshore wind market contributed more than triple that amount to 26,529 MW in 2020. 
  4. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics evaluation, a 108% growth rate is expected (2014-2024) in the employment of wind turbine technicians, making it one of the U.S. fastest-growing jobs. 
  5. Wind turbines reduce environmental concerns by decreasing 125 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. 

Conclusion

It is only a short time since offshore wind energy systems made their debut in the U.S., yet it has established itself as one of the principal renewable energy sources. Several reports and announcements have been released about wind energy, including the auction of 8 new lease areas into new wind energy areas undertaken by BOEM or the state policies that call for the deployment of 39,344 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2040 show the U.S. wind industry is going to take off soon. Yet, many challenges still await to make this field a success, including deep-water research, wind speed, and hurricane survival.