In April, Vice President Joe Biden revealed plans to slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. It is a required undertaking if we are to avoid catastrophic and irreversible climate change.
However, increasing renewable energy does not come without its challenges. One issue is where to store all of these renewables. According to Bloomberg and Princeton University, if the sun and wind supply 98 percent of energy by 2050, the amount of land needed to generate energy would have quadrupled.
That is why policymakers are searching for alternatives in the sea. In addition, the President recently announced a target of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, a goal that, if met, might ease the demand on land to support large acreages of energy production.
In the United States, there are currently just a few small offshore wind farms. However, according to the Department of Energy, 28,581 megawatts of offshore assets are currently under construction. Here is how those projects would contribute to the United States’ clean energy goals.
What is the mechanism of offshore wind?
Except for their scale, offshore wind turbines look similar to land-based wind turbines in that they send power to shore through buried wires above water. Offshore turbines are about twice as large as land-based turbines, with blades that reach more than 500 feet from the water’s edge to the tip of their blades.
Offshore wind plants are not only suitable because they avoid using land, but they can also generate more power because ocean gusts are more muscular and reliable. It is simple because there are no mountains, valleys, or structures to block the wind at sea.
Offshore turbines supported by a fixed base hammered into the seabed, limiting construction to water depths of less than 200 feet. However, developers may be able to mount turbines in deeper seas using newer floating technology that buoys the turbines while holding them in position with a mooring line. More than half of the US offshore wind resources could found in waters deeper than 200 feet, which is a tantalizing prospect.
Offshore wind turbines will generate much electricity.
According to researchers at the National Renewable Energy Lab, offshore wind resources could provide nearly twice the amount of energy that Americans currently consume. “We will never do it, but it gives you an idea of how many tools we have,” says Walter Musial, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s offshore wind research lead. Other uses of open coastal waters, such as fishing, are needed, and many inland states serve better by land-based energy generation. “Offshore wind energy will not generally be used to power Kansas City.”
Still, with about 80% of the country’s population living along its coasts, tapping into the sea’s stores of wind energy could be highly beneficial, especially in areas where there is limited space for energy development on the land as the Northeast.
What about achieving 30 gigawatts by the year 3030? It is possible, according to Musial, but not without obstacles.
Offshore wind’s stumbling blocks
To allow turbines to install, the federal government must lease ocean space to wind developers, which requires a lengthy process of citing and permitting. Negotiations with other groups that need access to those waters, such as the military, shipping, and fishing industries, are also needed.
Fishers have expressed concerns about how the developments may prevent them from fishing in their favorite spots. “Our fisheries are now better regulated than those of any other country. So it is not as easy as telling fishermen to switchgear and go somewhere else to fish, “The executive director of the Responsible Offshore Development Alliance, Annie Hawkins, told the New York Times recently.
Another concern is the construction of transmission infrastructure on land. Though offshore wind farms could initially connect to the grid where fossil power had previously connected, new transmission lines would eventually be needed. Not only vehicles would need to use the grid to charge in order to get off fossil fuels. However, several appliances would need to be electrified, implying that our potential energy needs will be much more significant, necessitating the construction of additional transmission networks. Since these lines need permissions from several levels of government and landowners, they can be challenging to design and build. “It is more difficult than the wind farm,” Musial says.
There are also some unanswered questions about how the facilities can impact marine life. The process of installing fixed turbines into the seafloor will create a racket underwater. Sea animals such as endangered right whales may stress by a clanging 10-foot diameter pipe hammered into the seafloor. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the noise, such as making a ball of bubbles around the construction site to break up the noise.
Why is offshore wind a cost-effective and dependable source of energy?
Offshore wind could provide a significant portion of the country’s potential power needs, despite its challenges. Furthermore, similar to solar power, the cost of wind power (including offshore wind) has decreased since the first turbines build. Even though there are few offshore turbines in the United States, offshore wind farm production in Europe and Asia has driven down costs. “Offshore wind is much more cost-competitive today than it was only five years ago,” says Ryan Wiser, a senior scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who focuses on energy markets and policy growth. “And indeed, that is one of the main reasons why an increasing number of states, especially on the East Coast, but possibly also on the West Coast shortly, have set more ambitious offshore wind targets.”
By 2050, Wiser and other Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers forecast that wind prices (including offshore) maybe half of what they were in 2015. “Several recent studies have shown that even with very deep decarbonization in the power sector, we might well be talking about costs and prices that are not all that dissimilar from what we see today in households,” Wiser says. “The simple explanation for this is that the cost of several main low-carbon technologies has been rapidly declining.”
The most common fallacy Musial encounters is that relying on solar and wind power would result in less reliable power. On the other hand, Grid managers are used to dealing with varying power demands across the day and through seasons. Our supply would be adequate if we have the right combination of clean sources, he claims.
“The bottom line regarding offshore wind, or any renewable energy system,” Musial says, “is that the grid’s stability and flexibility to supply power will not improve.” Although new technology would be needed to store energy, the sun’s and wind’s fluctuations are not insurmountable obstacles. “It is a fallacy that the grid’s stability will deteriorate.”