‘Floating’ tech: The next frontier for offshore wind

Source: By Heather Richards, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, October 28, 2019

A visual representation of a floating offshore wind farm. Image credit: Equinor

BOSTON — The floating offshore wind industry is America’s for the taking, according to analysts from Wood Mackenzie.

While the U.S. wind market in recent years has focused on capturing federal production and investment subsidies before their sunset, it has likely reached a critical turn. The next phase is a rapidly developing opportunity offshore, including the new frontier of floating technology, Wood Mackenzie analysts noted last week ahead of a recent American Wind Energy Association conference here in Boston.

Their outlook mirrors a study released Thursday by the International Energy Agency that reported the amount of potential power in floating wind is 11 times greater than current global demand (Energywire, Oct. 25).

Rolf Kragelund, director of offshore wind for Wood Mackenzie, said the United States could harness that sector.

“I think there is an opportunity for the U.S. market to take a leading role in [floating] offshore wind from the very beginning,” Kragelund said.

The United States, Japan and South Korea are the likely leaders in floating wind over the next decade, with the United States pulling far ahead by the end of the 2020s under the right conditions, according to a range of scenarios by Wood Mackenzie.

U.S. wind power capacity has more than doubled since 2010, but the country still lags Europe in taking wind power offshore. Only one offshore project — the 30-megawatt Block Island pilot project in state waters off Rhode Island — operates in the states today. But Northeastern states have driven expectations of a coming boom. Policy commitments to buy offshore wind power have reached 25,000 MW in the relatively shallow waters of the Northeast’s outer continental shelf.

But in the Pacific, where the seafloor drops off rapidly, only floating technology could bring offshore into the power mix.

“We see a huge potential in the West Coast,” Kragelund said.

Such technology made its European premiere this month, when a joint venture launched the WindFloat Atlantic platform from a Spanish port. The turbine is placed on one corner of a triangular buoy. It is constructed in port before being tugged to its offshore location (Greenwire, Oct. 21).

But California is stepping forward gradually and faces significant hurdles before a floating offshore wind industry could grow, a number of panelists pointed out at the AWEA wind conference.

The Department of Defense uses the state’s waters for training. A dislike for visible turbines off the coast is pervasive, and the state lacks sizable ports on the central and northern coast.

California’s grid is also ill-equipped to handle a heavy power influx at limited transmission connections. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has established three call areas for industry to consider, one in Northern California and two along the central coast. These are not the most blustery wind resources for California, but that is intentional, as developers and regulators are conscious of modesty in early developments given strained resources to absorb power.

Still, California is expected to play a significant role in the offshore space. Because of its size and its economic and cultural influence, California leadership would be no small thing, Jim Lanard, CEO of Magellan Wind, said during a panel on the state’s readiness for offshore.

“When it leads, many other states and nations will follow,” he said, arguing that offshore is a solution to the “existential crisis” of climate change.

Lanard said his greatest anxiety in the early years of chasing an offshore California wind project was the advance of solar paired with energy storage as a serious competitor in the sunny Southwest.

But a narrow market is no longer the case in California as green policies get ever more ambitious.

“I think there is growing acknowledgment now that we need it all, as fast as we can get it,” said Danielle Mills, director of the AWEA California Caucus.