Know how to build a floating turbine? A guide is being drafted

Source: Brittany Patterson, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Major industry players are helping develop “best practices” to assist developers in launching offshore wind projects along the U.S. coasts.

The three-year effort to write a set of comprehensive standards covering everything from how to design a wind turbine to building its foundations is meant to accelerate the burgeoning offshore industry.

The Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is involved with the process, along with Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). Industry groups, including the Business Network for Offshore Wind and the American Wind Energy Association, are also at the table.

“Right now they have a process, but it’s not very transparent. They have standards, but they aren’t perfect, and there are a lot of gaps being filled by federal regulators like BOEM,” said Walter Musial, manager of NREL’s offshore wind program. “Doing this will create more transparency and speed up the process.”

Gaps have emerged as companies increasingly move to build projects in U.S. waters, despite the existence of global standards that apply to all offshore wind facilities.

Last year, the nation’s first commercial offshore wind farm, the 30-megawatt Block Island project off Rhode Island, came online. In March, an auction for leases off the coast of North Carolina raised more than $9 million. Following that lease sale, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the results suggest that “offshore wind is one tool in the all-of-the-above energy toolbox that will help power America with domestic energy, securing energy independence and bolstering the economy” (Climatewire, March 17).

According to recent reports by DOE, there are more than 20 projects in the development pipeline, totaling 24,135 MW of potential installed capacity (Greenwire, Aug. 8).

There are many reasons the United States needs its own set of comprehensive standards, Musial said. For example, there is no international guidance regarding how best to build and secure wind turbines in the face of hurricanes because most offshore facilities have been built in Europe, where these kinds of storms are uncommon.

Another area of uncharted territory is how best to build floating wind farms with buoyant foundations. That appeals to an emerging sector of the industry that is eyeing abundant wind resources in the deep waters off the U.S. West Coast.

A technical advisory panel is expected to be formed within six months to craft the standards. It will include offshore wind developers, turbine manufacturers, wind farm operators, consultants and government representatives, among others.

The panel will update a set of recommendations finalized by AWEA in 2012 and add new standards. AWEA is accredited by the American National Standards Institute, a nonprofit organization that certifies voluntary standards, to craft guidelines for the offshore wind industry.

Federal agencies regulating offshore wind, including BOEM and BSEE, can then begin using the standards to advise developers on how to get steel in the ground.

“Regulators who have to approve every project that goes into the waters of the outer continental shelf are looking for specific guidelines and help to be able to improve their decisionmaking and make the process they require developers to go through more transparent to the public,” Musial said.

NREL is scheduled to host its first information session on the new initiative tomorrow via webinar.