A strategy rolled out by the Department of Energy (DOE) and Department of the Interior (DOI) to enable 86 GW of offshore wind capacity in the U.S. by 2050 highlights a number of key hurdles, including those related to technology, regulations, the environment, and markets.

The DOE’s and DOI’s September 9–released joint document, “National Offshore Wind Strategy: Facilitating the Development of the Offshore Wind Industry in the United States,” follows the DOE’s 2015-issued “Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the U.S.” That landmark report analyzed if it is feasible for wind to make up a 35% share of the U.S. power mix by 2050.

The DOE’s “vision” requires installing 86 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2050. If achieved, the U.S. could reduce its power sector water consumption by 5% and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.8%, the agency said

More than 11 GW of offshore wind capacity has been installed worldwide, 91% off the coast of 11 European countries and the remainder in China, Japan, and South Korea, according to the Global Wind Energy Council. But while several projects are under development in the U.S., only one—Deepwater’s Block Island 30-MW wind farm in Rhode Island—is nearing completion.

Yet, according to the joint report from the DOE and DOI, today, the U.S. has a technical offshore wind potential of 2,058 GW using existing technology.

Significant siting and development opportunities are also available now, it says. By the end of 2015, the DOI had awarded 11 commercial leases for offshore wind development that could support a total of 14.6 GW, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is vetting more potential wind areas.

The biggest factor that is stalling the growth of the U.S. offshore wind industry is cost. “Today, the cost of offshore wind energy is too high to compete in most U.S. markets without subsidies,” the report says.

However, continued global market growth and research and development investments to improve resource and site characterization could allow for optimized designs, reduced capital costs, greater safety, and less uncertainty in preconstruction energy estimates—and that could result in reducing financing costs, it adds. Increasing turbine size and efficiency, reducing mass in substructures, and optimizing wind plants at a systems level for U.S. conditions could also reduce costs.

The report is optimistic about improving costs, noting that in some locations like the Northeast, offshore wind could eventually be competitive with other forms of generation within a decade. “A new cost analysis by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows credible scenarios for cost reductions below $100/megawatt-hour by 2025 in some areas of the United States, and more widely around the country by 2030,” it says.

The U.S. industry will also need to cultivate installation, operation and maintenance, and supply chain solutions. “The complexity and risk associated with installation and operation and maintenance activities requires specialized infrastructure that does not yet exist in the United States,” the report notes.

The nation’s regulatory process will also need to change. “Further work can be done to improve consistency and identify and reduce unnecessary burdens in BOEM’s existing regulatory process. This may include establishing more predictable review timelines and maintaining a reasonable level of flexibility given the early stage of the industry’s development,” it said. The report also called for more data to verify and validate the impacts of offshore wind development on the oceans.

Finally, how significant offshore wind could affect power grids will need to be better understood at state and regional levels, and the costs and benefits associated with different offshore transmission infrastructure and configurations and strategies need to be characterized, the report adds.


Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)