Offshore Wind Experiences Its Best Growth In 2013

by Guest Contributor: J. Matthew Roney

offshore wind turbines
Image credit: danishwindindustryassociation via photopin cc

Originally published on Sustainablog.

Offshore wind power installations are on track to hit a seventh consecutive annual record in 2013. Developers added 1,080 megawatts of generating capacity in the first half of the year, expanding the world total by 20 percent in just six months. Fifteen countries host some 6,500 megawatts of offshore wind capacity. Before the year is out, the world total should exceed 7,100 megawatts. Although still small compared with the roughly 300,000 megawatts of land-based wind power, offshore capacity is growing at close to 40 percent a year.

World Annual Installed Offshore Wind Power Capacity, 1991-2013

In 1991, Denmark installed the world’s first offshore wind farm, a 5-megawatt project in the Baltic Sea. The country’s offshore wind sector has since alternated between lulls and bursts of activity. Since 2008, Denmark’s offshore wind capacity has more than tripled, topping 1,200 megawatts by mid-2013. Over 350 megawatts of offshore wind power were plugged into the grid in the first half of the year—all of it to complete the 400-megawatt Anholt project, which is expected to meet 4 percent of Danish electricity needs.

Denmark already gets more than 30 percent of its electricity from wind—onshore and offshore—and aims to increase that share to 50 percent by 2020. At about one third the size of New York State, Denmark has the world’s highest wind power capacity per square mile, so it will rely mostly on offshore expansion to hit the 2020 target. Denmark was first to put wind turbines in the sea, but today it ranks a distant second to the United Kingdom in total offshore wind generating capacity.

More than 500 megawatts of new offshore wind power went online in U.K. waters in the first half of 2013, bringing the country’s grand total to over 3,400 megawatts—enough to power more than 2 million U.K. homes. The bulk of this new offshore capacity went to completing the 630-megawatt first phase of the London Array, now the world’s largest offshore wind farm. It overtook another U.K. project, the 500-megawatt Greater Gabbard wind farm, which was finished in 2012. In all, the United Kingdom has some 12,000 megawatts of offshore wind capacity under construction or in earlier development stages. Belgium’s offshore wind capacity grew 20 percent to 450 megawatts in the first half of 2013, placing it third in the world rankings. Germany reached 380 megawatts of offshore wind and will have at least 520 megawatts by year’s end.

Beyond this, the German offshore industry expects another 1,000 megawatts will connect to the grid in both 2014 and 2015. Countries in Asia are starting to make offshore wind power more than just a European affair. China, for example, brought its first offshore wind farm online in 2010. Since then, China has quickly climbed to fourth in the world, with 390 megawatts.

The official goal is for 5,000 megawatts of wind capacity in Chinese waters by 2015, ballooning to 30,000 megawatts by 2020. In Japan, where land is at a premium and where the future of nuclear energy is in question, offshore wind is gaining attention as a potentially huge domestic, carbon-free power source. A 16-megawatt project inaugurated in the first half of 2013 bumped Japan’s offshore wind capacity to 41 megawatts. Because Japan lacks much shallow seabed in which to fix standard offshore turbines, new floating turbine technology is likely the future for offshore wind there. Off the coast of Fukushima prefecture, a 2-megawatt floating turbine will begin generating electricity in November 2013, the first stage of a 16-megawatt demonstration project. If it performs well, the hope is to expand the project’s capacity to up to 1,000 megawatts by 2020.

.Cumulative Offshore Wind Power Capacity by Country, Mid-2013

Floating turbines may actually be a big part of future offshore wind development at the global level. Not only do they greatly expand the area available for wind farms, they also have the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of offshore wind generation, which today is more than twice as expensive as that from turbines on land. While offshore wind manufacturers have managed to achieve cost reductions for the turbines themselves—through lighter, stronger materials and increased efficiency, for example—these savings have thus far been offset by the rising cost of installing and maintaining turbines fixed to the seabed as projects move into deeper waters.

The renewable energy consultancy GL Garrad Hassan notes that working around harsh weather becomes much easier with floating turbines: when conditions are favorable, relatively cheap tugboats can bring a turbine to the project site for quick installation, avoiding the need for specialized installation vessels.

The turbine can be floated back to shore when the time comes for maintenance, lowering both cost and risk. The world is gaining experience in using this young technology. In the last few years, Norway’s Statoil and Seattle-based Principle Power have both deployed floating wind prototypes successfully, in Norwegian and Portuguese waters, respectively. In June 2013, the United States at last joined the offshore wind club when a 20-kilowatt (0.02-megawatt) floating wind turbine anchored off the coast of Maine first sent electricity to the state’s power grid.

The turbine developer, DeepCwind, a consortium led by the University of Maine, plans to deploy two much larger versions, 6 megawatts each, in 2016. The first full-fledged offshore wind farm in the United States, though, will likely be of the traditional variety fixed to a foundation in the seabed. Three proposals—Massachusetts’ 470-megawatt Cape Wind project, Rhode Island’s 30-megawatt Block Island Wind Farm, and New Jersey’s 25-megawatt Fisherman’s Energy I project—are the closest to beginning construction. U.S. offshore wind’s potential is staggering.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, shallow waters along the eastern seaboard could host 530,000 megawatts of wind power, capable of covering more than 40 percent of current U.S. electricity generation. Adding in deeper waters and the other U.S. coastal regions boosts the potential to more than 4.1 million megawatts. This is consistent with the findings of a 2009 Harvard study that calculated wind energy potential worldwide.

The authors estimated that in most of the world’s leading carbon dioxide-emitting countries, available wind resources could easily meet national electricity needs. In fact, offshore wind alone would be sufficient. Clearly, the world has barely begun to realize its offshore potential. Indeed, in some countries, regulatory and policy uncertainty seem to be sapping offshore wind’s momentum just as it really gets going, clouding the picture for future development.

The U.K. government, concerned about costs, recently changed its target date for 18,000 megawatts of offshore wind from 2020 to 2030. In Germany, turbine orders are scarce as developers await the new coalition government’s plans for regulations and incentives. And in China, offshore wind companies say the guaranteed price for the electricity they generate is set too low to stimulate rapid growth, calling into question whether the country can hit its ambitious goals for 2015 and 2020.

Reflecting the hazy outlook in these and other key countries, projections for global offshore wind capacity over the next decade or so—from research and consulting firms and from industry publications—range anywhere from 37,000 to 130,000 megawatts. Despite the impressive growth of recent years, it seems that the lower end of these forecasts is much more likely. We know there is practically no limit to the available resource. What remains to be seen is how quickly the world will harness it and give offshore wind power a more prominent place in the new energy economy. For more information on wind power, see “After Record 2012, World Wind Power Set to Top 300,000 Megawatts in 2013,” by J. Matthew Roney, at www.earth-policy.org.

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This article, Offshore Wind Experiences Its Best Growth In 2013, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

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Guest Contributor is many, many people all at once. In other words, we publish a number of guest posts from experts in a large variety of fields. This is our contributor account for those special people. 😀

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US Wind Industry Goes Into 4th Quarter With Strong Winds At Its Back

by Zachary Shahan

Zachary Shahan at a wind farm. Credit: Mariia Khandus / Zachary Shahan
Zachary Shahan at a wind farm. Credit: Mariia Khandus / Zachary Shahan

If you’re not familiar with what has gone down in the US wind industry in the past year, here’s a quick synopsis (skip the next two paragraphs if you know the background well):

Careless Congressmen

Despite fossil fuel and nuclear power competitors getting tax credits for many decades, the wind industry tends to have its guaranteed for just 1–3 years at a time. Last year, they were set to expire at the end of the year. The solution could have been simple — extend the tax credits for another year, saving tens of thousands of US jobs, helping the US manufacturing industry, and continuing to advance US leadership in one of the cleanest sources of energy on the plant.

Instead, certain leaders of a certain political party decided to sacrifice a strong and growing portion of the US economy by turning extension of the wind industry tax credits into a political game. In fact, leaders of that party actually let the tax credits expire this time. They finally extended the wind power tax credits for just one year a couple of days after they expired. Nonetheless, this did a few things: firstly, it resulted in tens of thousands of Americans losing their jobs; secondly, it resulted in a ton of wind power projects getting rushed through at the end of 2012. That resulted in a record year for wind power, in which wind power was the largest source of new power capacity in the US. But it also meant that projects scheduled to finish in early 2013 actually finished earlier, resulting in a very slow start to 2013.

US Wind Industry in Q3 2013 & 2013 As A Whole

The American Wind Industry Association (AWEA), which recently released the US Wind Industry Third Quarter 2013 Market Report, says that the market has now rebounded. Nonetheless, the lack of a long-term signal of support for wind power leaves the industry in a less-than-ideal state of being. “Lack of certainty over federal tax policies continues to keep wind energy from reaching its full potential in the United States.”

But wind power technology has continued to advanced, driving down wind power costs in the US and elsewhere. And the bottom line is that wind power is the cheapest option for new electricity generation in many if not most regions.

Utilities “have signed over 5,670 megawatts (MW) of new power purchase agreements (PPAs) and received approval to build over 1,870 MW of utility-owned wind power” this year. “These 7,500 MW of new wind projects are helping spur wind manufacturing companies to increase hiring, and driving construction starts.” 1,100 MW (or 1.1 GW) of new wind power projects broke ground in the third quarter, according to the new report, bringing the 2013 wind power construction total to over 2,300 MW.

Here’s more from AWEA on what the dropping costs combined with fair policies have resulted in:

The renewed push toward wind included multiple utilities procuring significantly more wind energy than their initial request for proposals called for, including American Electric Power’s Public Service Company of Oklahoma, which said it decided to triple that amount because of ‘extraordinary pricing opportunities that will lower costs for PSO customers by an estimated $53 million in the first year of the contracts.’

‘Utilities are investing in more wind power because it’s the smart thing for their ratepayers and their bottom lines,’ said AWEA Senior Policy Analyst Emily Williams. ‘Xcel Energy, Detroit Edison, Austin Energy, Omaha Public Power District, and American Electric Power’s Public Service Company of Oklahoma have all pursued contracts in excess of their initial requests for more wind this year, because wind is saving their consumers money.’

Xcel Energy recently told its ratepayers that “wind energy can save you money.” It also noted that “wind prices today are lower than other energy resources, like natural gas. And wind power purchased at firm prices will protect you from the uncertainty of rising fuel costs in the future.”

It was also happy to throw in a the green card: “with our new wind supply, we’re on track to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 30 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.”

Beyond 2013, Where Will We Go?

Notably, one big thing was changed with this year’s wind power production tax credit (PTC) extension. Projects don’t have to be finished by the end of the year to qualify, only extended. So, you can expect that a large number of projects will be started this quarter, even if they are not completed this year.

From AWEA: “Utilities are eager to take advantage of the PTC/ITC extension with at least 27 requests for proposals issued for wind, renewables or other capacity to date. These will lead to over 4,175 MW of new wind. Looking further ahead, 5,600 MW of new wind projects have secured long-term contracts, and another 1,900 MW have received state regulatory approval.”

Wind power is going to see a very bright future in the US and globally. Wind power costs continue to come down, while costs for wind’s top US competitor, natural gas, are headed up.

Will wind power ever get the long-term tax credits that coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power get? Will it even matter?

I think a long-term extension of the wind power PTC would help, and would only be fair. But I don’t have much hope that the current Congress will put that through. And I think if the wind industry is left assuming that the tax credits are over, the industry will actually grow at a steadier, smoother rate. We’ll see.

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This article, US Wind Industry Goes Into 4th Quarter With Strong Winds At Its Back, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.

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