The U.S. currently has only one commercial offshore wind farm, the five-turbine, 30-MW Block Island Wind Farm. While the nation is off to a slow start in the offshore wind energy race, it is possible that the U.S. could eclipse the world leader in the industry, Europe, according to Ross Tyler of the Business Network for Offshore Wind.
“Europe has right now the most amount of offshore wind … approximately 12 GW,” Tyler said at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute’s Annual Congressional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency EXPO and Forum on July 11 in Washington, D.C. “In contrast, where we are today in the United States, we only have five turbines.”
While that’s a significant disparity, Tyler suggests that what the U.S. lacks in current capacity, it more than makes up for in potential. The U.S. has only been working at offshore wind ardently for about 10 years, putting it about a decade behind Europe, but in the perfect position to benefit from Europe’s lessons learned.
“We have scale that’s much larger than the European offshore wind market, and we can use the technology that the Europeans have kindly developed over the last 20 years. This means the U.S. has the potential for an accelerated path to reach the same number of gigawatts as the European market,” Tyler said.
Beyond using Europe’s existing technology, the U.S. is working on next generation technologies, which would free offshore wind from the seafloor. Current technology requires wind turbines to be fixed to platforms in the seafloor. This isn’t a problem in shallow waters, but on deeper coasts, it is extremely prohibitive.
“We’re also making advances with the next generation of wind turbines, which are being made basically for floating wind farms. In this case, the wind turbines are not … supported from the ocean floor, but are floating,” Tyler explained. “Much of the engineering of this comes from the oil and gas industry. This next generation of offshore wind technology opens up markets along our west coast.”
All of these factors create a hospitable environment for the U.S. offshore wind industry to grow faster and cheaper than the European industry, Tyler suggested.
—Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.