The United States has enough offshore wind resources to generate twice the amount of electricity used by the current population, or nearly 2,000 gigawatts annually.
Offshore Wind Farms Give New Possibilities to Renewable Energy
Emily Folk | Conservation Folks
Offshore wind farms have been in operation for over 25 years. Though most facilities are located in Europe, the United States began operating the Block Island Offshore Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island in December 2016. While historically expensive, the cost of constructing an offshore wind farm has decreased to nearly half of what it originally was in 2015.
Reduced construction costs have also meant a reduction in the price of offshore wind electricity per megawatt hour. This alone makes offshore wind energy an attractive option for the United States to reduce their carbon footprint.
The United States has enough offshore wind resources to generate twice the amount of electricity used by the current population, or nearly 2,000 gigawatts annually. This comes as no surprise considering the country’s coastline is at least 12,838 miles long. The eastern coast of the United States is especially well-suited for offshore wind power.
Wind speeds offshore of the United States eastern seaboard range from less than 15 mph to greater than 22 mph. Wind turbines typically operate between eight mph and 55 mph, speeds over 55 mph can cause damage to the turbines, while speeds below eight mph aren’t as efficient.
Approximately 50 percent of the population lives in coastal areas where land for renewables is limited. Offshore wind offers a viable option for renewable energy, which won’t impact existing land resources.
New York recently approved a proposal to construct a 15-turbine, 90-megawatt offshore wind facility off the coast of Long Island. This facility will generate three times the volume of electricity of the Block Island Offshore Windfarm. Once fully operational, the South Fork Wind Farm will have the capacity to provide electricity to nearly 50,000 homes.
As more offshore wind farms are constructed, future construction costs may decrease as the infrastructure needed to tie these facilities into the existing grid will already be in place. To capitalize on this opportunity, new farms will need to be constructed near existing offshore facilities to minimize the new resources needed.
Improved foundation designs allow turbines to be built in deeper water further from the shoreline to take advantage of the stronger, steadier winds. More sustained winds mean turbines generate electricity more regularly. This also reduces the amount of maintenance required, as parts are moving more consistently rather than constantly starting and stopping.
Stronger foundations have also allowed for larger turbines to be constructed. The larger the turbine, the greater capacity for energy generation. Fewer turbines also lessen the cost of the infrastructure needed to transfer the electricity to users.
Self-lubricating systems are being employed to reduce the frequency of maintenance needed. The casing for turbine electrical components in some instances has been pressurized to reduce vulnerability to salt spray.
Offshore wind is a new concept in the United States. Defined regulations haven’t yet been put in place to streamline the approval processes. For example, it took nearly 11 years for the South Fork Wind Farm proposal to be approved. Delays were due in part to concerns for marine habitats and the commercial fishing industry. Data collected on the operation of existing facilities will aid in determining the level of offshore wind farm environmental impacts, if any.
Offshore wind farms offer an accessible, carbon-free method of meeting the electricity needs of the United States.
About Emily Folk
Emily is an environmental writer, covering topics in renewable energy and sustainability. She is also the editor of Conservation Folks.
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