The US Department of Energy (DOE) is pushing for $100m to spark the deployment of new offshore wind demonstration projects, with an eye on the vast energy resource that lies in deeper waters off the country’s east and west coasts suited to floating technologies.

The funding, up from $63m last year, would help “aggressively drive innovation” in building wind farms to harness an energy resource 58% of which is estimated to stream over water more than 60 metres deep – beyond the reach of fixed foundations, said to DOE deputy assistant secretary for renewable power Alejandro Moreno.

Developing floating wind arrays off the US is widely seen as a means to ensuring the Biden Administration’s goal of building 30GW of offshore projects by the end of the decade was “not as a ceiling but as a stepping-stone on the way to expanded [plant capacity at sea]”, he said, speaking this week at the AFloat conference.

Beyond the US’ 2030 offshore wind target, the country has the ambition of seeing 110GW or more installed by mid-century. “To achieve these targets… floating must play a key role,” Moreno said.

The funding, part of the 2022 fiscal budget, would target technologies suitable to deployment in the US Atlantic – where the country’s flagship project, Aqua Ventus 1 off Maine, is in development by a consortium made up of UMaine, Mitsubishi-owned Diamond Offshore Wind, and RWE – and Pacific – where California recently opened up three call areas with an estimated 3GW of potential.

Aqua Ventus 1, a planned 11MW pilot unit based on UMaine’s innovative VolturnUS hull design, was preceded by a part-scale version that when installed off Maine in 2013 became first and only grid-connected floating wind unit off the US.

The VolturnUS hull, which is engineered based on modular concrete bridge technology, is designed to be made by locally available concrete fabricators.

“We’re gaining both construction experience in the industry here in the US and collecting real-world data from the nation's first floating offshore wind installation,” Moreno said.

UMaine has been the recipient of several awards from DOE to support development of floating wind technology, including a $1.4m grant to design an ultra-lightweight concrete concept fitted with technology first developed by NASA to dampen vibrations in rockets.

If the Aqua Ventus pilot launches in 2024 as now planned, it would be the first floating wind installation off the US and the only one permitted within Maine state waters.

Maine recently passed legislation banning offshore wind development in state waters due to complaints from the powerful fishing industry, but, as Recharge reported, is shaping up a 144MW floating project in federal waters in the Gulf of Maine.

Floating wind is forecast to grow to be a 250GW-plus international market by mid-century but is currently represented by a number of demonstration-scale projects, including the 30MW Hywind Scotland – the world’s first industrial array – in the UK North Sea, the 25MW WindFloat Atlantic off Portugal, and the just-launched 50MW Kincardine off Scotland.

Moreno sees several obstacles facing floating wind's commercialisation in the US, including the lack of supply chain and an ageing grid that will struggle to handle large volumes of power “coming from new places and in new patterns”.

Fixed bottom offshore wind has a thirty-year start on floating, he highlighted, and if floating is “going to compete with fixed bottom… we need to aggressively drive innovation” across components, mooring system, turbine technology, control systems, as well as automated, simplified manufacturing processes.

California has as much as 10GW of potential offshored wind resources, all in waters too deep for fixed foundations, while the far-offshore areas off the eastern seaboard are seen as being developed after the first wave of bottom-fixed.

According to a scenario scoping report by analysts Aegir Insights, floating wind power could steam forward to account for as much as 25% of the total offshore plant capacity installed off US shores by 2035.