Goals are meant to be big. They’re meant to be ambitious. They’re meant to push further than thought possible and that’s why any truly laudable objective is often met with professional cynicism by outsiders.
Before the ink was dry on President Biden’s stated national goal of having 30GW of offshore wind turning by 2030, opportunistic market analysts were already selling conventions set up to proclaim the goal impossible. To some, the US was already ‘too far behind’ Europe – and indeed Asia – in its development plans to catch up to build-out levels being seen beyond American waters and could not possibly accelerate the industry to meet the timeline envisaged.
Those of us who have spent the past actively building the US offshore wind industry, however, could not disagree more strongly - even before the federal go-ahead was at last given to the country's first-ever utility-scale project, Vineyard Wind 1. Count us among the optimists. Better – call us realists. We are seeing a rare moment in history when a primed market is taken to the next level by a determined federal government willing to use muscles its way to success.
The goal will be met because the goal has been set. For years offshore wind was confined to the halls of state capitols, but still experienced significant behind-the-scenes progress that set the industry up for today’s growth. Now we are seeing the Biden administration’s “whole of government” approach kick the industry into high gear, showing what extraordinary progress is possible with federal support.
Within days in office, the Biden Administration announced they would progress wind permits on a more predictable timeline, earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to speeding up port redevelopment on the eastern seaboard and unveiled valuable wind areas for lease in the New York Bight. These aggressive federal actions validated state commitments and boosted needed investor confidence for supply chain development.
Now, the Biden administration is showing leadership by setting ambitious goals and, most importantly, taking the steps to achieve them. Last month, the federal government announced an agreement that would advance possible leases off California. Bringing offshore wind to the west coast requires American innovation and ingenuity to advance floating turbines technologies, allowing the US to gear-up to become a global market leader in this highly prospective sector.
Next up could well be the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) where the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has been telling local stakeholders it anticipates leasing areas in late 2022. Due to its oil & gas history, GoM projects will have access to mature supply chains and built-out port facilities allowing it to advance expeditiously – and its oil operators will be under ever greater pressure to decarbonise their operations, a role floating and bottom-fixed wind is increasingly been seen as playing to support emissions reductions offshore.
Soon, the ‘original’ east coast wind states will realise their current commitments are not high enough for their decarbonisation and renewable goals and will move to increase their commitments, creating a longer, and more profitable, market timeline. As the market matures, we also will likely see corporate or other non-state power purchase agreements.
Ultimately, cynics grossly underestimate the potential for US market acceleration once American companies find their sea-legs and start to really see the abundance of opportunity ahead. Let’s remember: globally, of the well-over 30GW installed in a last decade almost two thirds has gone in during the last five years – and 11GW of that in past 24 months.
Offshore wind is a once-in-a-generation new American industry that should be seen as the epitome of the pioneering spirit that brought about the US automotive industry, the US tech boom, and put a US man on the moon. Businesses will take their cues from the federal government, and as their confidence in this new industry grows, will pivot to take advantage of this new market opportunity.
Success is not a foregone conclusion, however. The industry’s development can be hobbled by several known issues including transmission complications and a lack of regional coordination to solve supply chain constraints, for a start. Federal leadership is paramount and cannot waver. So far, all indications suggest the Biden administration is willing to tackle the big problems, like proposing $100bn to rebuild the energy grid and billions more to bolster port infrastructure, R&D, and manufacturing.
Today’s naysayers likely predicted we would never be where we are now – on the precipice of incredible growth in the US offshore wind market and in a position to even be debating such an audacious goal. Those of us in the industry are not surprised. We know it will take, in US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm’s words, a “marshalling [of] every resource” to achieve. But we see a bright future – and we’re ready to help build it.
Ross Gould is vice president of supply chain development at the Business Network for Offshore Wind. BNOW and Recharge have partnered to launch the Ventus Awards, the first offshore wind industry awards honouring stand-out companies, organisations and projects supporting the global adoption of offshore wind. Nominations open July 2021. More information can be found here.