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Get Ready, Get Set, Go: Offshore Wind in the USA

Lexie Briggs's picture
Advanced Energy Economy

Lexie Briggs is the Social Media Manager at Advanced Energy Economy, where she runs many of AEE's digital properties. Prior to being employed at AEE, she was a Network Engagement Associate...

  • Member since 2018
  • 73 items added with 36,856 views
  • Oct 24, 2014

Alpha_Ventus_Offshore-windEverybody, hold onto your hats. The moment we have been waiting for may have finally arrived – or, well, it’s not very far off. American offshore wind is on the horizon, figuratively and literally, and approaching fast.

American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) hosted its Offshore Windpower Conference and Exhibition in Atlantic City, NJ, last week, which brought together industry leaders, including Deepwater Wind, Cape Wind, and Dominion Virginia Power. Currently, there are 14 offshore wind projects under development, but none has yet to put a turbine foundation in the water. That’s all about to change.

“This is the year it happens,” Deepwater Wind CEO Jeff Grybowski said at the conference. “We are nine months away from the installation of our first foundations.” Deepwater’s Block Island Wind Farm, which is fully permitted and approved, will operate five wind turbines off the coast of Rhode Island.

Massachusetts-based Cape Wind plans to lay foundations in late 2015. The project, which will be the first utility-scale offshore wind project in the U.S., began development more than a decade ago. Over the years it has faced opposition from the Kennedys to the Koch brothers, at basically every stage in the process.

The project has been at the vanguard of the offshore wind movement in the U.S., meaning that it paved the way for other offshore wind projects under development, but only by jumping through all sorts of hoops. Jim Gordon, the natural gas developer who proposed Cape Wind more than a decade ago, had no idea what he was getting into. “If I knew from the very beginning that it would take 12 years and cost as much as it did, I would have had to think very long and hard about accepting that challenge,” Gordon said in 2013.

But in for a penny and in for a pound, and Cape Wind is in – and has had a series of successes recently. These include a contract with Siemens to supply the project’s wind turbines, and an agreement to use a port terminal in New Bedford, customized for offshore wind installation, as its construction base. Recent rounds of fundraising put the project on track to be fully funded later this year. Additionally, power purchase agreements with National Grid and NStar have been critical to financing the project.  Through the PPAs, the two utilities have agreed to purchase 77.5 percent of the total power Cape Wind produces.

“We are on track and expect to close financing by the end of this calendar year,” Cape Wind Communications Director Mark Rodgers said. “When physical construction begins, it will be a game changer for this industry,” Rodgers added. “The benefits will be self-evident.”

And the endless legal action? Earlier this year a federal judge said, “enough with these lawsuits already.”

In Virginia, Dominion Power is developing a project backed by the Department of Energy. The project, the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project (or VOWTAP for short, sort of), plans to install two 6 MW Alstom turbines. These developments are included in Governor Terry McAuliffe’s newly announced energy plan. “Virginia is really serious about offshore wind,” McAuliffe said. With all these projects under development, perhaps Europe’s dominance in offshore wind will not last. In a 2010 study, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported that the U.S. has 4,150 GW of offshore wind capacity. Soon wind turbines will be delivering American-made energy to the American economy. Harnessing our natural resources is as American as baseball and apple pie. It’s enough to make you want to chant: U-S-A! U-S-A!

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Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Oct 25, 2014

They need to be installed for much cheaper, then we could overbuild (and make synfuels as storage). The renewable option requires, to be fossil free, storage in the amount of the inverse of its capacity factor at the local level, gradually lessening within ever larger long distance coverage, due to overlap.

If we want to be serious about preventing excess CO2, we will want to (re)develop and deploy at the global scale, the molten salt reactor concept, because it requires far less storage, less mass, less land and thus, less money (if mass produced in the same fashion as cars and airplanes).

Nevertheless, I still like giant wind turbines (just dislike the “requirement” for fossil fueled backup)!

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Oct 26, 2014


I think the fossil fuel backup argument is somewhat overblown for people who are looking at a 1 to 2 decade timeframe.  Two trends promise to substantially reduce the need for fossil backup. 

1) Development of transcontinental HVDC power lines from the great plains to the grid on the Eastern seaboard can provide the geographic diversity to decorrelate sources substantially reducing intermittency.  These guys seem to be well on their way to making this a reality.  HVDC is much more efficient and requires substantially smaller right of ways to move massive amounts of power.

2) Time of use metering combined with EVs and smart-grid communication of rates promises highly flexible load shifting.  Consider that as EVs move towards 200 mile range as the norm, the typical commuter can set their vehicle to charge to, say, 60% and arbitrage the rest at lowest rates.  Alternatively they could simply set it to stop charging any time the rates go above a certain threshold, reducing the charging load as demand spikes or generation drop-outs occur. 

EVs will offer a surge in flexibility on the load side, dramatically reducing the requirements for generation flexibility.  In areas such as Texas, the wind generation peaks at night making this scenario an excellent match.  HVDC can extend that match well beyond Texas and other great plains states.  Also, solar can help fill in the daytime generation trough.  I did a blog post on this a while back using ERCOT data along with data from other sources.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Oct 26, 2014

It seems “time of use” is the definition of juggling inadequate energy supplies, I assume that billions of people won’t want to have to deal with it (just as I don’t)! I would rather pay the extra required to make sure we have steady, reliable power from wind, pumped hydro storage (with HVDC) and, of course, passively safe power from MSR’s.

An import tariff based on carbon based embodied energy could help (or fully) subsidize these, and promote more local jobs. We can not afford to juggle, especially if everyone is to charge up their cars every night, too. I know that the little bit of fission products are not such a big deal to manage if the spent fuel is reprocessed because we had the tech decades ago. It’s just a matter of political bs (and public acceptance).

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 26, 2014

Clayton, the idea that if we simply cast our net wide enough we can smooth out wind’s peaks and valleys is somewhat of a myth. As the graph below shows wind patterns frequently persist across time zones and even continents:

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Oct 26, 2014

Thanks Bob,

That is interesting.  Could you provide a link to the image or the document it came from.  It is hard for me to make out the specifics.

I have done most of my research on USA wind which is a different beast.  We have significant resources at 50% CF (much higher than land based in Europe) and it decorrelates due to different weather systems from the Great Plains to the atlantic seaboard.  I compiled some of the information I have found on decorrelation on a blog here .  And here is information on the Great Plains wind. According to NREL we have over a TW of land based wind at and above 50% CF if we can get the power lines to it.  Since large amounts of Great Plains wind is night peaking that means its effective CF is even higher at night.  As EVs become a significant participant in the transportation sector load shifting to charge them offers a path to much higher penetration of renewables without dedicated storage.  My opinion is that the federal government should require all utilities to shift to TOU metering on a 10 year timeline with milestones and penalties to make sure they don’t postpone and create a pretend crisis 10 years from now.

Europe’s resources are not as good as ours.  However with Spain  and Northern Africa’s solar potential, Norway’s 30GW of hydro and high CF off shore wind, they are making the best of what they have and already pushing well beyond what skeptics said was possible.  As EVs proliferate, they will serve the grid as the opposite of storage.  They will serve as a controllable power sink (rather than source) that offers the opportunity to smooth out renewable intermittency.


Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Oct 26, 2014

I hear you Robert. I too will not be running around turning stuff on and off every time my cell phone beeps with a pricing signal either.  However if major loads have mechanisms making it easy to take advantage of price fluctuations, I would take the 1/2 hour needed to read the directions and set them up for automated load shifting.  Especially if it could save me $100’s or $1000’s annually.

It is hard for most to imagine a world with a week of household energy storage sitting in the driveway (2 EVs each with 100kwhr batteries).  However, in that world, paying just a little attention to load shifting can be worth as much as one’s entire current home electricity bill.  Teslas (I have not investigated other EVs) already include time of day charging as a standard feature.  In places like Texas, where windpower is reliably night peaking, you could just set your EV up to charge starting at 11:00pm and as long as the utility was billing on a TOU basis you would be set to take advantage of the load shift rates.  Further, there is huge change afoot as large companies are placing massive resources in service of making home energy management simple.

Hopefully smart grid will get us to the point where major loads such as autos will receive signals and be able to do automated arbitrage, buying much of their power based upon pricing algorythms.  This would add further stability to the grid. 

I think that distributed load shifting can and will play a very important role in increasing the penetration of renewables while reducing the requirements for dedicated backup from sources such as FF and large batteries.  Unlike the early 20th century, it is now practical to create a market based grid.  The time has come to update the 100 year old monopoly utility model.  Electricity generation AND consumption needs to operate based upon price signals in something that is much closer to a free market than the centrally planned approach used today.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Oct 26, 2014

Thanks for the explanation. It makes sense to integrate all the variables. Stationary home storage would be nice, though.

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