Offshore Wind Power: Vast Potential but Vast Challenges

The US Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced plans to accelerate the development of offshore wind power in the United States.  The US, particularly along the East Coast, has vast reserves of offshore wind.  According to Willett Kempton of the Center for Carbon-Free Power Integration at the University of Delaware, offshore wind has an estimated 18 times the resource of offshore oil.[i]  DOE intends to realize 54 gigawatts (GW) of wind by 2030 within a cost range of 7-9 cents per kilowatt-hour.[ii]

DOE states that, “offshore winds blow stronger and more uniformly than on land, resulting in greater potential generation.”[iii]  Another advantage of offshore winds is that they blow more frequently and strongly during peak demand[iv], and would mitigate the need for costlier backup generation.  And because of the expensive cost of electricity along the coasts, offshore wind is expected to become competitive with fossil fuels relatively quickly.[v]  Offshore wind can also help coastal states without significant renewable resources meet their renewable portfolio standards goals.[vi]  And reaching the goal of 54 gigawatts would create an estimated 43,000 permanent operations and management jobs.[vii]

Despite the potential to produce clean, cost-effective electricity, huge challenges remain to commercial deployment.  The cost of energy will need to come down by 50%.[viii]  This will require increased market penetration and public acceptance as well as improved technology.  In addition, the resource is not well-defined.  That is, it is important to better understand where the wind blows best; and ports will need to be expanded in order to handle huge turbines and the vessels that transport them; job-specific marine vessels will also need to be built.[ix]  Finally, the project approval and siting process will need to be streamlined.  Project approvals currently take 7-10 years.[x]  This will require greater state and federal cooperation.

However, some progress is already being made towards developing an offshore wind power industry.  5 gigawatts of offshore wind have been proposed in the US.[xi]  Google recently agreed to spend $200 million on a transmission system for offshore wind along the Mid-Atlantic coast[xii], and Department of Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, recently signed the nation’s first offshore wind power lease at Cape Wind, off the coast of Massachusetts’ Cape Cod, paving the way for the initial steps in the development of a US offshore wind power industry.


[i] Kempton, Willett.  “Offshore Wind Power.”  Slide 19.  May 27, 2010.  Accessed from: http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/pdfs/workshops/2010_summit/kempton_offshore.pdf.

[ii] U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Wind & Water Power Program.  “Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States: A Strategic Work Plan for the United States Department of Energy.”  September 22, 2010. P. 7. Accessed from: http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/pdfs/offshore/offshore_wind_strategic_plan.pdf.

[iii] DOE, 9.

[iv] DOE, 11.

[v] DOE, 11.

[vi] DOE, 11.

[vii] DOE, 12.

[viii] DOE, 13.

[ix] DOE, 13.

[x] DOE, 14.

[xi] DOE, 16.

[xii]Wald, Matthew. “Offshore Wind Power Line Wins Praise, and Backing.”  New York Times.  October 12, 2010. Accessed from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/12/science/earth/12wind.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=all.