James Montgomery, Associate Editor, RenewableEnergyWorld.com
February 27, 2014 | 7 Comments
The flip side of building out the U.S. offshore wind sector is incentivizing the supply chain, and that means building a pipeline of projects to spur private-sector investments, urged Fara Courtney, founder and CEO of the U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative. "As soon as we get something in the water, we need to look at the big picture and be efficient about it." Doing so also lessens the economic burden on the first projects in the water, which "can drive things forward, but be careful about managing expectations" about just how much they can accomplish, she said.
Bill White, director of offshore wind sector development for the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and Matthew Morrissey, managing director for the New Bedford Wind Energy Center, both showcased accomplishment and goals for the state's leadership in offshore wind energy. In the days of whaling New Bedford was the nation's richest city per capita and continues to be the nation's top grossing fishing port, Morrissey noted, and the city believes adapting some of that infrastructure to accommodate offshore wind will continue that tradition. "We are not interested in losing our working waterfront," he said. At the same time, acknowledging a multi-year lag in between offshore wind projects, particularly once Cape Wind and Deepwater come online, New Bedford is making sure its port is designed as a multipurpose facility, ideally with eventual ownership from a terminal operator.
Emphasizing the Technology: It's All About Foundations
Offshore wind technology is improving in all areas, from cost of construction to more efficient turbines and even O&M, but ultimately these merely are "chipping away at costs," said Copeland. The real big leap in innovation, he suggested, will be in foundations and installations. "The real breakthrough is being done in the water," Weissman agreed. The proverbial Holy Grail for this industry would be to put forth a project where most or all of the construction and assembly is done dockside and the only vessels required are tugboats. Yet the irony is not lost, he said, that the same wind regimes that make offshore locations viable also can disrupt installation schedules and hike up costs.
"The turbines are incredibly important... but there's been so much development we don't have to emphasize that so much anymore," agreed Johan Sandberg, service line leader for offshore renewable energy at DNV GL. Foundations, however, are "very interesting -- a lot can be done," especially around automating their manufacturing in areas such as welding and bending plates, and having shipyards to do the work in a competitive environment: "modularization is very important," he said.
Karl Klos-Hein, managing director, EEW SPC, suggested that jacket and floating foundations would see more interest through the next several years, while monopiles (especially XL version) will gain ground, but he sees declining prospects for gravity-based foundations (too complex and major environmental impacts) and tripod/tripiles (too heavy, expensive fabrication and logistics). A handful of offshore projects being installed over the next several years are being switched from jacket foundations to XL monopiles, he said; the larger of them well in excess of 100 turbines each, including Dong Energy's Walney Extension, Van Oord's Gemini, E.On's Rampion, and WPD/DEA's Kriegers Flak. XL monopiles are likely to come in at almost a third the cost of jackets for use with Siemens 3.6MW and 6 MW turbines respectively, he showed.
Morten Mork, division manager for wind and renewables at Bladt Industries, also noted the emergence of XL monopiles vs. jacket designs, while showing several examples of the latter being constructed out of Denmark's Lindø shipyard.
An Offshore Wind Vision for 2050
DNV's Sandberg presented his company's vision for offshore wind in 2050. The International Energy Agency's (IEA) revised forecasts call for roughly 18 percent wind power by 2050, and a quarter of that coming from offshore, significantly more than just a couple of years ago. A projected 14 percent drop in onshore wind LCOE for every doubling of installed capacity could be duplicated in offshore as well, he noted. Laying out the pathway to 2050 comes in three stages, he offered: First (2013-2020) are using existing technologies in innovative ways, such as offshore wind-powered water injection systems at oil/gas reservoirs to increase their capacity -- in fact this very application has been online in Scotland for several years. A second phase he described (2020-2030) would focus on integration with society (e.g. fishing, agriculture, shipyards), powering islands and archipelagos, and introducing offshore energy storage options, new turbine and blade materials, and ultradeep moorings.
For the final step in the 2050 vision Sandberg introduced a video-animated fly-by of a gigantic offshore wind farm off Japan's Niigata coastline, inspired by petroleum resources and efforts on the Norwegian Continental Shelf and its fundamental influence on Norway's economy. Japan is the perfect location for a mega-offshore wind farm, he said: there's a tremendous gap in power generation lost in nuclear plant closures; Japan continues to heavily import liquid natural gas, paying a record $69 billion in 2013; and the 2011 Tohoku quake/tsunami Japan decimated the fishing industry, resulting in a whole coastline of unemployed workers.
Sandberg quoted a keystone theme from last year's critically acclaimed Japanese movie "The Wind Rises": "Inspiration unlocks the future, technology will catch up."
Tax Extension Or No?
No wind energy conference is complete without discussion about tax credits, and in this venue there were somewhat opposing views. Mandelstam initially declared there will be "no legislative vehicle in 2014" because of persistent "total gridlock" in both houses in this election year, asserting that "the existing conversation is moribund." Upon an audience suggestion that the industry should be expressing more positivity about such an important issue, he agreed that this is the industry's #1 priority (Grybowski echoed this as well), but Mandelstam reiterated that the industry also needs to be candid: after getting the tax extenders through during nearly the past two decades including Republican-dominated governments, "we've now gone backwards" in the current climate of dysfunction in Washington, and "even our champions are saying it's an enormously difficult lift." In response, though, Cape Wind's Jim Gordon replied he's confident the tax extenders will happen in 2014.
Nevertheless, Mandelstam acknowledged that there's light at the end of the tunnel for permitting and politics. "Congress may be crazy but they're not foolish," he said, noting that they won't kill what could be a major national industry, one which has strong support from elected officials on the coasts who believe it's an enormous job creator. "I'm ultimately optimistic that members of Congress will do the rational thing."
Lead image: Wind farm generators with sky at sea, via Shutterstock