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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's Next: 2011 Edition, Part 2.

Part 2 of my Top 10 Predictions for Offshore Wind in 2011 examines new technology developmens and new legislative incentives for Offshore Wind.

(4) State Legislation In Support of Offshore Wind Projects

In the wake of New Jersey’s 2010 OWEDA legislation and following the failure of the 111th Congress to pass a national renewable energy standard, many coastal states with offshore wind potential are considering adopting state legislation to provide incentives for developing offshore wind projects in state and state-adjacent federal waters. This type of legislation provides critical support for offshore wind projects by ensuring lenders and financiers that the energy produced by these projects will be purchased and distributed to end-users.

Other coastal states where Power Purchase Agreements ("PPA"s) for offshore wind projects have not yet been signed (fn1) are likely to follow suit and attempt to enact legislation to encourage offshore wind development. In fact, last week, Maryland Governor O’Malley announced that he plans to propose legislation which will require utilities to purchase a certain amount of wattage from offshore renewable energy projects. Other states that are likely to enact laws which include financial or other incentives for offshore wind development are New York (for both Atlantic and Great Lakes-based development opportunities), Texas (for developments in state waters in the Gulf of Mexico), Michigan (for Great Lakes development) and the Carolinas.

(5) Development of "Floating" Turbines

I admit that I follow the development progress of the various engineering teams working to produce a scaleable floating wind turbine the way that some people follow “American Idol.” In my opinion, a fully tested and engineered scaleable model of a floating wind turbine will transform the offshore wind industry globally and create worldwide opportunity for the production of energy without sacrificing environmental integrity or land in the periphery of already over-burdened demand centers.

BOEMRE provides the following description of the turbine technology that is currently in use at foreign installed offshore wind projects and which will be used for the projects currently proposed in the United States:

Offshore wind facilities today are generally developed and operated as follows. Once a suitable place for the wind facility is located, piles are driven into the seabed. For each turbine, a support structure and a tower to support the turbine assembly, to house the remaining plant components, and to provide sheltered access for personnel are attached to the piles. After the turbine (generally a three-bladed rotor connected through the drive train to the generator) is assembled, wind direction sensors turn the nacelle (a shell that encloses the gearbox, generator, and blade hub) to face into the wind and maximize the amount of energy collected. Wind moving over the blades makes them rotate around a horizontal hub connected to a shaft inside the nacelle. This shaft, via a gearbox, powers a generator to convert the energy into electricity.

See: BOEMRE website.

Because the current generation of turbines must be secured via piles driven into the seabed floor, locations for offshore wind farms have been limited to areas where the water depth does not exceed 30 meters. As a result, most coastal areas in the United States have been deemed unsuitable for offshore energy development including nearly all of the western seaboard-- regardless of the bounty of the wind resources located there. Instead, offshore wind development proposals have been limited to areas with appropriate oceanic bathymetry (i.e. ocean depth) such as the shallower areas of the Outer Continental Shelf extending from Maine down to the southern reaches of the mid-Atlantic region, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Great Lakes.

However, if engineers can overcome the technology issues that preclude the development of offshore energy projects in waters deeper than 30 meters, large swathes of ocean territory located near demand centers could open up for offshore wind development.

Over the last eighteen months, a development team at the AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine, in collaboration with the DeepCwind Consortium has been working to develop a “floating” wind turbine that could be installed in waters significantly deeper than 30 meters. The program, if it is able to stay on track with its funding requirements (nearly $20 million per year over the next four years) expects to design, build, deploy, and test 1:3 scale floating turbine prototypes at a designated (and state approved) test site in Maine's coastal waters over the next 3 years. The program expects to have its first full-scale floating turbine designed, built and deployed at a deep water test site by 2015. See: HERE at page 2.

The University of Maine team is not the only engineering team seeking to develop a scaleable floating wind turbine. In August 2009, Statoil, a Norwegian company with extensive offshore oil drilling experience, installed the first full scale test model of a floating wind turbine, known as the Hywind Project. The Hywind project has less than a year left in its two year testing period, and was designed to be installed at depths of 120-700 meters below sea level.

In addition, a collaboration of European companies including, among others, Converteam, EDF Energies Nouvelles, Institut des Sciences de l'Ingenieur Toulon-Var, IFP Energies Nouvelles, Oceanide, and the engineering company that installed the Hywind Project, Technip, have announced plans to install their own prototype floating offshore wind turbine called the Vertiwind project. The Vertiwind project is a vertical-axis offshore floating wind turbine which will be located in French waters in an area identified as the Sea Cluster of the Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur region. The project is backed and sponsored by the French Prime Minister through the French Environment and Energy Management Agency.

Although we should not expect a fully tested scaleable floating turbine to be production ready in 2011, the enormous market potential of this technology makes any significant engineering progress worth watching.


1. Although I would laud the effort, I do not believe that Delaware legislators will prioritize enactment of legislation mandating inclusion of offshore wind generated energy in Delaware’s renewable energy portfolio. The primary purpose of legislation that requires utilities to purchase offshore wind generated electrons is to facilitate investment in offshore wind projects by mandating a back-end market – i.e., requiring utilities to enter into PPAs with offshore wind energy generators. Delmarva Energy has already signed a PPA with Bluewater Wind, an offshore wind project developer, for a project that is slated to be built in waters adjacent to the Delaware coast. Therefore, in my opinion, it is less critical for Delaware to adopt incentive based legislation.

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