As the US takes a well-earned victory lap after a staggering auction of six leases last week in the New York Bight returned a record-shattering $4.37bn in bids that will catapult the nation full-tilt toward its ambitious build-out targets this decade, the industry is already looking ahead to next acreage soon to be on the block at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management: California, the Gulf of Mexico, and Central Atlantic.
These regions bear the hallmark prerequisites for offshore wind: large coastal population centre power demand; significant port infrastructure; heavy, steady winds that offer a perfect complement to buttress resource adequacy of onshore renewables and potential sources for green hydrogen; and climate targets and decarbonisation legislation that underwrite bold action.
But there is one – significant – distinguishing feature possessed by these next US zones: deep water. The Pacific coast is not blessed with the shallow waters of the Atlantic outer continental shelf (OCS) that have graciously served as the cradle of offshore wind off the eastern seaboard, and with the New York Bight now concluded, this play has almost exhausted the low-hanging fruit of acreage on the OCS and is likewise headed deeper along with areas of the Gulf of Mexico.
As the next chapter of US offshore wind unfolds, deep-water will vital and step changes in the technology critical to delivering foundational floating wind projects to harness the resource without losing the momentum now building in the country.
Early partnerships are critical to meet high stakeholder expectations of floating wind
For these next development areas, taking cues from New York, acceleration of deployment is key, but simultaneously policy makers and industry must embrace a necessary industrial evolution as the sector wades into the deep-end: a thought-through approach to successfully unlocking deep-water wind power at speed.
Prioritisation of early-stage partnerships with global deep-water expertise – not synonymous with offshore expertise, to be clear – is essential to ensure accurate site evaluation, yield estimation and robust levellised cost of energy analysis of these frontier sites in addition to economic development models for the balance of plant (BOP).
This will be even more critical to demonstrate viability in expertise and economically for sites which – given global lease price trajectories we saw continued in New York last week – will need to be squeezed of every gigawatt-hour and BOP costs substantially reduced in order to be commercially cost-effective.
Such early partnerships are also crucial in minimising environmental impacts and emphasising technology solutions to meet understandably high stakeholder expectations and mitigating potential conflicts with important fishing and maritime industries. These floating wind projects will also require critical value engineering of fabrication and installation methods and port infrastructure, that will help drive serialisation and cost-cutting.
Next-generation technology solutions are also key to optimising yield and cost with consideration of environmental impacts. In short, there is a third leg in successful deep-water wind development: renewable energy expertise, offshore expertise, and now floating expertise.
This trifecta is as essential to maximising energy production as are targeted dollars to unlocking the serialisation that will be help drive down the cost of floating wind in the midst of ongoing upward cost pressures and mounting expectations, to ensure the US maintains the scale and speed necessary to effectively mitigate the worst impacts of climate change.
By 2050 approximately 15% of offshore wind is expected to come from floating sites, growing from 29GW in 2019 to approximately 1,750GW in 2050. With its vast coastlines and equally vast clean energy demand, American is well poised to become a global home of sector with estimates of as much as 35GW of high-capacity floating wind by 2040, and almost 60GW by 2050.
Fortunately, the global deep-water industry has been gearing up for this moment and developing pivotal solutions and diverse business models to boost optimism and advance solutions. With the right approach to encourage early integration of floating expertise, we won’t lose time treading water to achieve our goals.
· Adrienne Downey is Swedish floating wind technology developer Hexicon’s country manager for the US & Canada