Oregon, the Gulf of Maine and the waters of the Central Atlantic could step out from the shadows of the major floating wind play emerging in California to supercharge commercial expansion of the industry in the US, according to the chief development officer of Irish developer Simply Blue.

The US offshore wind sector is set to boom in the next few years as some 20GW of capacity comes up for government approval and made available for installation on the path towards the Biden administration’s target of 30GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030.

But with near-shore development along the Atlantic seaboard reaching saturation, Kevin Banister noted the industry is looking at deeper waters in these until-now 'second tier' US floating wind plays, where the federal and state governments are moving in tandem towards developing the coastline’s rich wind resources.

“We are optimistic and bullish of where floating wind is going to take the industry, and we are moving rapidly from demo to commercial scale. We think the market [including these emerging US plays] is ready for commercial scale development,” he said, speaking at Recharge’s digital roundtable, Floating wind power: the armadas head out to sea.

“The US has recognised the potential for floating to play a role in these various different markets,” Banister added.

The Gulf of Maine is already in the frame with the 144MW Aqua Ventus project, spearheaded by the University of Maine and now involving Diamond Offshore Wind and RWE. The Gulf of Maine has some 156GW of offshore wind potential according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), with most of it in deep waters requiring floating platforms.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the federal regulator of energy development in federal waters, recently opened up a vast swathe of the Central Atlantic to interest by offshore wind developers.

BOEM has also identified three deepwater development areas off Oregon, in Coos Bay (10.5GW potential), Brandon (2.9GW) and Bookings (3.5GW), to be studied for future offshore wind projects, and state law is calling for 3GW of capacity by 2030.

Simply Blue is partnering in a joint venture with TotalEnergies, which won leases in the last two US auctions, as TotalEnergies SBE, enabling it to leverage the French oil supermajor’s expertise in offshore oil and gas development and its offshore wind ambitions towards commercial scale floating development.

The Gulf of Mexico is also in the frame for floating wind projects in the US, if seen as further-horizon opportunity, having an NREL-calculated500GW of potential, and despite slower wind speeds and the threat of hurricanes, the area is already slated for offshore wind development with up to 11 wind energy areas (WEA) scheduled for auction as leases starting next year.

“There is large project management sophistication that comes with the types of partnerships that we’ve been able to engender with the oil & gas industry,” said Banister, noting that much of the technology deployed for the floating wind sector, including the floating platforms, originated in the oil & gas sector.

“As the offshore wind industry has matured in terms of certainty and scale, we’ve seen increased opportunities to bring the experience of oil & gas into offshore wind.”

The oil & gas sector experience in deep waters will be particularly crucial for floating wind in the Pacific, where the lease areas being auctioned off exceed 1,000 metres, far beyond the current maximum depth of 220 metres currently seen in the sector.

California is advancing the US floating wind sector following the passage of state law AB525 signed last year by governor Gavin Newsom mandating offshore wind as part of the state’s energy mix, with authorities mulling 3GW of capacity by 2030 and as much as 50GW by 2045. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimates that California has some 200GW of offshore wind capacity.

The lack of supply chain or port infrastructure, however, is another bottleneck the industry will face in the Pacific, where cargo ports are already stretched to their limits and manufacturing was never as well established as in other regions of the country.

Overcoming these challenges will require substantial investment into the infrastructure, potentially driving up costs for a sector that already comes in at $160/MWh, according to NREL.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out, particularly on the west coast where the supply chain required to meet President Biden’s goal, how exactly is all of that infrastructure going to fall into place?” asked Banister.

Banister noted that the focus on the LCOE has the potential to distract government decision-makers from the value that the industry brings in terms of decarbonisation and economic activity.

“Focusing on the value of the product opens up many possibilities that make the industry start to look more attractive,” he noted.

· A full recording of the Recharge digital roundtable Floating wind power: the armadas head out to sea can be seen here.