Exciting times for US offshore

Something big is stirring off the US West Coast, and it is going to have huge ramifications in the coming decades.

That something is Principle Power’s proposed WindFloat Pacific project, 24-29km off the Oregon coast. Don’t judge the development by its size (30MW) but by what it represents: a first step towards tapping the enormous potential of US offshore energy.

Principle Power has requested a commercial lease for the project, and in February, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) deemed that there are no competitive interests in the area. That clears the way for us to proceed with planning and development, which could have far-reaching effects for America’s energy future.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has stated that “from both technology and commercial perspectives, WindFloat Pacific is the most ambitious offshore wind project in the world, and will greatly extend the boundaries of what is possible in the offshore wind industry”.

The project’s five 6MW Siemens direct-drive turbines will be installed on WindFloat floating foundations in the deepest water of any proposed US wind farm (an average of 350 metres), in the harshest metocean conditions (a 2.3-metre significant wave height).

A study released in 2011 by the Department of Energy (DOE) Offshore Wind Innovation and Demonstration (OSWInD) initiative provided an approach for the development of offshore wind in the US, with a goal of achieving 54GW of installed capacity by 2030.

The study identified more than four terawatts of gross potential, relatively close to key commercial load centres, that can help the nation reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diversify its energy supply and revitalise important sectors of the economy. Not to mention providing cost-competitive electricity.

At the end of 2012, the DOE awarded $28m to seven OSWInD demonstration projects, including WindFloat Pacific. Each received $4m to develop detailed plans for proposed installations, with the goal of having turbines in operation by 2017.

Now the department is finalising the selection of three projects that will move on to the implementation phase, with each successful development in line to receive an additional $47m. That trio will be announced in the second quarter of this year. If selected for this phase, WindFloat Pacific could become the next project to receive a commercial lease from the bureau and would be the first offshore wind farm off the West Coast, where water depths have prohibited development to date.

Meanwhile, 3,500km to the east, things are starting to pick up pace. In 2010, the BOEM issued its first commercial lease for offshore wind to the Cape Wind project, off Massachusetts. Last year, two follow-on commercial leases were issued to Deepwater Wind for its Rhode Island- Massachusetts project.

With the closures of nuclear and coal-fired power stations, the Pacific states of Washington, Oregon and California will collectively be looking to add more than 10GW of capacity by 2030, with Oregon and Washington alone requiring close to 8GW.

Principle Power and its partners are ready to deliver the project, and are supported by the governors of both states.

Offshore wind’s potential is no secret. DNV GL’s Global Energy Outlook 2050 has just reconfirmed that the demand for energy will keep increasing, yet the desire to cut our dependence on fossil fuels will persist. This drive for sustainability strengthens the case for renewable energy taking an increasingly central role in electrifying our future.

Offshore wind — one of the largest energy sources available on the planet — will play an important part.

Many growing population centres lie on either coast. The vast offshore resources in these regions are typically in deeper water, where the wind is stronger and steadier. This creates incredible opportunities for the evolving floating offshore installations that can operate in waters of 40 metres and deeper, extracting energy from previously inaccessible areas.

WindFloat Pacific could be coming on line just in time to show that offshore wind in deep water represents a viable — indeed, vital — addition to America’s energy mix.

Alla Weinstein is president and chief executive of Principle Power, a Seattle-based developer of floating offshore technology

This piece was published as part of the Thought Leaders series. Recharge’s Thought Leaders Club brings together leading thinkers and participants from the renewable-energy sector to examine the key challenges facing our industry