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For Offshore Wind to Thrive, Collaboration A Must

If the European Wind Energy Association projections prove accurate, offshore capacity across the continent will leapfrog past traditional onshore wind developments sometime after 2030. By 2050, it predicts, offshore will be the dominant form of wind development. There's no reason to believe that this trend will play out any differently in other parts of the world as the industry sets out to take wind energy farther and deeper than its ever been.

If it’s true that the winds of change are coming to the wind industry, and that developments will move farther offshore behind technologies currently in the research stage, the question remains: Who will lead this emerging sector of the industry?

To answer that, start with the current leader — in this case, the United Kingdom.

According to a report from EWEA released in this week, Europe added 883 MW of offshore capacity in 2010, giving the continent 2,964 MW in total capacity. A bit less than half of that rests off the U.K. coast. The U.K. is the global leader with a total of 1341 MW, followed by Denmark (854 MW), The Netherlands (249), Belgium (195) and Sweden (164).

 

This EWEA chart projects installed capacity, electricity production and share of EU demand

 

While there’s a lot of capacity at stake, there’s also a lot of money on the table. The industry, according to the report, was worth €2.6 billion ($3.77 billion) in 2010. Again, this puts the U.K. in the driver’s seat as the rest of the world considers its offshore future. But in the nascent industry, U.K. companies are marketing themselves as sources of experience for other European countries exploring offshore, such as France. More than anything, business leaders and government officials see the vast potential of the American market — particularly along the East Coast — as a way to move the industry forward as a whole.

U.K. Looking to U.S.

In the U.S., there’s been a lot of talk and a lot of hope for a place where the industry has yet to install its first offshore wind development. Still, U.K. companies have taken notice, and they see enormous potential in the waters that could eventually serve major markets like New York City, Washington and Boston.

One U.K. company that has crossed the Atlantic is PMSS, a global renewable energy consulting firm that recently opened a New York office to better position itself in the new market. According to Mike Rosenfeld, a Los Angeles-based vice-consul with UK Trade & Investment — the U.K. government’s international business development agency — PMSS is already working in a consulting capacity with prospective developers interested in exploring offshore wind. Scotland-based SgurrEnergy has played a prominent role in the yet-to-be-built Cape Wind development — the project that has come to define America’s movement in offshore wind.

Aside from individual companies looking to expand into American waters, Rosenfeld says it’s the unified vision of the two governments that has helped pique interest. Though the British government has traditionally been more supportive through policy, there have been some significant actions by American leaders to help kick-start offshore exploration. One of those — Smart from the Start — may have come later than some would have liked, but it has nonetheless laid the groundwork to facilitate siting, leasing and construction of new projects.

“There is already collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change on how to accelerate deployment of offshore wind,” said Rosenfeld. “There’s no need to constantly reinvent the wheel. If there’s an opportunity to collaborate on how to get this offshore wind deployed faster, this is a good example of how government to government collaboration will come into play.”

Not all innovation is flowing from Europe’s more established markets to the United States. Principle Power, a Seattle-based deep water wind platform technology company, has teamed with a group of international companies, including turbine-maker Vestas, on a 2-MW floating test installation off the coast of Portugal. The project could be completed in 2012.

Why U.K. has emerged as a leader

The nation undoubtedly is looking to maintain its role as an industry leader in engineering, research and manufacturing. The U.K. has broad government support, a strong cluster of universities and places like the Energy Technology Institute, where global industries and the U.K. government have teamed to work on developing new technologies.

Denmark may have installed the first offshore project, but the U.K. appears to have won the inherent advantage that usually comes with the first to market. Rosenfeld says this is partly due to strong government support and ideal conditions for offshore wind.

"The U.K. has a resource that is considered the most viable at the moment,” said Rosenfeld. “The resource, which is the wind itself, blows pretty consistently.”

But even as the U.K. develops more and more offshore farms, they realize the future is likely in the areas they have not yet reached. It’s those nations that support innovation, says Rosenfeld, that will allow companies to go after farther, deeper deployment in a quest to develop commercialized wind farms far off the coast where the wind blows the strongest.

“Right now, the engineering challenges of deploying in deeper waters clearly is the challenge,” said Rosenfeld. “We know how to do it because we’ve done it with offshore oil drilling production. The deeper you go, the more expensive and challenging it is. Then bringing the power back is also a question. How do you bring the cost down of deploying in deep water?”

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