DOE Announces New R&D Effort for Offshore Wind

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry on Dec. 12 announced a significant new DOE commitment to advance offshore wind energy.

DOE will invest $18.5 million in an R&D consortium focusing on reducing the cost of offshore wind. DOE said that U.S. oceanic wind energy sites present singularly complex challenges: deep water, hurricanes, supply chain issues and, of course, developing and constructing the turbines and related structures for ocean placement.

“This is the largest funding opportunity announcement issued by DOE’s Wind Energy Technologies Office (WTO) since the demonstration program began in 2012,” Valerie Reed, WTO Director, said, adding that “all of the DOE funding is being allocated by DOE up-front, and is not dependent on future year Congressional appropriations.”

Following on the heels of the funding news, President Donald Trump on Dec. 13 said in a public statement that he is signing an executive order that starts the process of opening more offshore areas for oil and gas exploration, and unlocking what Trump described as “billions of dollars in wealth.” The order reverses an Obama-era ban on drilling in the Arctic and along the U.S. East Coast.

Offshore Wind Goals

Sec. Perry said DOE’s offshore wind research will further the “goal to accelerate the development of offshore wind technologies by supporting fundamental research to reduce the costs of offshore wind energy to successfully compete in regional energy markets.” The reference “successfully compete” is a top economic and policy goal for DOE.

The new R&D consortium will be a cooperative public-private “innovation hub” focusing on topics such as wind power technology, resource and physical site characterization, installation, and operations. The consortium will include DOE’s national labs — which will get an added $2 million for their new work — and offshore wind industry businesses “who will contribute funds to the consortium and use the research findings to further advance technologies,” DOE explained.

Details on how the public-private venture will work were not released, nor were any private sector partners identified. DOE plans to name an administrator to oversee this new work.

President and CEO of Trident Winds, Alla Weinstein, said she applauds the DOE for “moving forward with the implementation of the DOE/DOI Offshore Wind Strategy that was announced in late 2016.”

“The approach suggested in the [funding opportunity announcement (FOA)] is an interesting one, and seems to be similar to the U.K.’s Carbon Trust. The trick for the DOE will be to choose a truly independent Administrator,” she added.

A big challenge, Weinstein said, is achieving an “open and cooperative implementation structure that would propel deep water offshore wind solutions to reach the desired levelized cost of energy targets.”

This R&D seeks to build on the U.S. nascent offshore wind market. To expand wind’s potential, DOE emphasizes that the U.S. must address “several specific challenges that require industry-wide collaboration to reduce costs.”

DOE presented the framework of the R&D consortium within an FOA also released on Dec. 12. DOE seeks a “collaborative R&D, supported by a consortium model, [which] allows the knowledge, experience, and resources of multiple entities to be leveraged in arriving at a common objective — in this case, lowering the cost and de-risking the development of offshore wind in the United States.”

The timetable for the new initiative starts now. DOE hosts an informational webinar next week. Concept papers are due in January and full applications in March. DOE expects to choose a program leader between June-September 2018.

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