US launches program to promote floating wind turbines


On Thursday, the Biden administration announced the latest in its renewable energy efforts, this time focusing on a technology that hasn’t really arrived yet: floating offshore wind turbines. Compared to turbines mounted directly on the ocean floor, floating versions are estimated to cost about 50 percent more, keeping large ocean areas off the limits of economic energy development. The program announced today will create a “wind shot” that aims to reduce costs by more than 70 percent over the next decade and position the US as an industry leader in the industry.

Will it float?

While offshore wind is booming in Europe and China (and is ready for takeoff late in the US), existing hardware is built directly from the seafloor, which requires sitting in shallow water. This works well for the US East Coast, where a broad continental shelf can host large-scale wind farms, many of which are in the permitting and planning stages. Most of those projects involve partnerships with European companies, as the US’s long delay in adopting offshore wind has entrusted the industry to countries that have taken the lead in the sector.

Based on a newly released map of offshore wind potential in the US, many areas with good potential are so deep that they cannot be exploited by wind turbines attached to the ocean floor. This includes almost the entire West Coast, Hawaii and the Great Lakes. Even along the east coast, floating turbines can expand open areas for development.

Collectively, the Department of Energy estimates that there is a potential for more than four terawatts of wind power between fixed and floating turbines. At typical production levels of offshore wind, this is enough to cover the entire annual electricity use of the US in about three months.

The problem is cost. Fixed onshore wind turbines have recently become competitive with coal-fired generation in Europe, and they still have to fall a bit before they can compete with natural gas. Adding a 50 percent expense penalty for floating air makes the cost more than nuclear power. The new “Wind Shot” program aims to address this as well as build on the ability to install floating turbines while making it cost-competitive with natural gas. If successful, it could position US companies as leaders in floating wind power.

to shoot

While there may be problems with the overuse of the term “moonshot” in relation to government programs, the term wind shot is based on an earlier, successful DOE program called “sunshot”. Launched nearly a decade ago, Sunshot had similar goals of cost reduction in photovoltaic power—and reached them several years before its deadline. That success has helped give rise to a number of related renewable energy programs.

Sunshot’s key belief is that the cost of panels has come down to only a fraction of the challenges of solar power. The cost of permitting and supporting hardware such as inverters, as well as the ability to manage lots of intermittent power on the grid, all created constraints that limited the economic potential of solar. Similarly, the temporary wind issues have nothing to do with the cost of the turbines (though lowering them won’t hurt). Instead, the effort is focused on the support hardware.

For offshore wind shot, this would involve optimizing the design of floating platforms and designing the tether and transmission network connecting them to the ocean floor that would bring the resulting power to shore. DOE will also work to ensure that the supply chain can be established to feed the domestic manufacturing industry and to grow that industry to meet the target of having 15 GW of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035. Is.

Specifically, DOE will fund competitions for floating platform designs, develop software to help design offshore farms and integrate them into the grid, and analyze ports and grids along the West Coast to determine know how to support an offshore wind industry there. In addition, an existing research program called Atlantis (stands for, and I wish that wasn’t true, “Aerodynamic Turbines, Lighter and Afloat, with Nautical Technologies and Integrated Servo-Control”) is on field testing of some designs. will focus. Came out of the first phase of the program.

In addition to the obvious benefits from a leadership position in an industry that is likely to grow dramatically over the next decades, the focus on floating offshore wind offers some offshore fossil fuel extraction industry and the potential to remodel workers. Having a clear path to continued relevance can reduce the resistance to some of the changes we will inevitably have to make.

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