US looks to rival Europe and Asia with mega floating offshore wind plan

The Block Island wind farm, photographed in 2016, is located in the waters off the east coast of the United States.

Don Emert | AFP | Getty Images

The White House said Thursday it is targeting 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035, as it looks to compete with Europe and Asia in the emerging sector.

“The Biden-Harris administration is launching coordinated actions to develop new floating offshore wind platforms, an emerging clean energy technology that will help the United States lead offshore wind,” a statement released by the US Department of the Interior said. .

The announcement said the 15 gigawatt target would provide enough clean energy to power more than 5 million homes. It builds on the administration’s goal of reaching 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, an existing ambition that will mostly be met through fixed-bottom facilities.

Along with the 15 GW ambition, a “floating offshore wind shot” will aim to “reduce costs for floating technologies by more than 70% by 2035, to $45 per megawatt-hour,” according to the statement.

“Large-scale application of offshore wind technology will open new opportunities for offshore wind power off the coasts of California and Oregon, in the Gulf of Maine, and beyond,” she said.

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Floating offshore wind turbines are different from fixed bottom offshore wind turbines, which are rooted to the sea floor. One advantage of floating turbines is that they can be installed in much deeper water compared to fixed bottom turbines.

In a fact sheet outlining its plans, the US Department of Energy said that about two-thirds of US offshore wind potential is “above bodies of water that are too deep for ‘fixed bottom’ wind turbine foundations that are secured to the seafloor.”

“Harnessing energy above water hundreds to thousands of feet deep requires floating offshore wind technology — turbines mounted on a floating foundation or platform anchored to the sea floor with mooring lines,” she said. “These installations are among the largest rotary machines ever built.”

In recent years, a number of large companies have played plays in the floating offshore wind sector.

In 2017, Norwegian energy company Equinor – a major player in oil and gas – opened Hywind Scotland, a five-turbine facility with a capacity of 30 megawatts, which it calls “the world’s first floating wind farm”.

The past year has also seen a number of major developments in the emerging industry.

In August 2021, RWE Renewables and Kansai Electric Power signed an agreement that would see the two companies “jointly examine the feasibility of a large-scale floating offshore wind project” in waters off the Japanese coast.

Norway’s Statkraft has also announced the commencement of a long-term purchase agreement relating to a large floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland. A few months later, in December 2021, plans were announced for three major offshore wind development projects in Australia – two of which are set to integrate floating wind technology.

When it comes to offshore winds more broadly, the United States has a long way to go to catch up with Europe.

The nation’s first offshore wind facility, the 30-megawatt Block Island wind farm, began commercial operations in late 2016.

By comparison, Europe installed 17.4 gigawatts of wind capacity in 2021, according to figures from industry body WindEurope.

However, change is coming, and in November 2021, ground was broken in a project dubbed the first offshore wind farm in the United States on a commercial scale.

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