Progress Report: Seven US Offshore Wind Demonstration Projects

Ahead of next week’s AWEA Windpower event in Chicago, a Webinar from the Department of Energy (DoE) provided an update on the potential for offshore wind energy in the U.S. with a state-by-state progress report, as well as seven DoE-backed demonstration projects preparing to explore various types of technologies to simplify the costs and efficiency of offshore-generated wind energy.

Out of a calculated 4,150 GW of offshore wind energy resource potential, the DoE’s Wind Powering America initiative aims to achieve 54 GW by 2030, translating to roughly 10,000 offshore turbines averaging at east 5 MW each, and roughly 4 percent of the nation’s electricity capacity, explained Greg Matzat, senior advisor for the DOE’s offshore wind office of wind and water power technologies. That could also support several hundred thousand jobs in the supply chain and revitalize ports and heavy industries, he added.

While the wind resources in the middle of the U.S. have attracted initial wind technology investments, offshore wind energy is much closer to where the major electric load centers are — 28 coastal states use more than 79 percent of the nation’s electricity, he said, and typically have more expensive rates — and avoids extra burden and investments in the transmission grid getting the electricity where it’s needed most, Matzat pointed out. Offshore wind also tends to be more load-following than land-based wind, picking up in the afternoon to better offset electricity market prices during peak period. Offshore wind turbines also typically see higher capacity factors with percentages in the 40s instead of the 30s. (Statoil’s Hywind demo project in Norway has achieved 50 percent capacity factor, he noted.)

Annual average wind speeds, land-based and offshore, at 80m. (Source: DoE)

There are also unique legislative and regulatory hurdles for offshore wind development. Federal jurisdiction is triggered beyond three miles off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, where laws recognizing states’ “submerged” lands transfer to the watch of the DOI/BOEM. (In the Great Lakes there are no federal leases; in the Gulf of Mexico the line is widened to nine miles offshore.) Jim Lanard, president of the Offshore Wind Development Coalition, highlighted the U.S. Coast Guard’s oversight of development in coastal port access routes and shipping lanes, some of which go through wind energy areas identified and adopted by the Department of the Interior (DOI). A productive working relationship between the wind energy industry, individual states, and the USCG is critical, “or US offshore wind areas will go away,” he proclaimed. Accommodations for port access routes around offshore wind projects might be necessary in some cases, but there aren’t any significant traffic route claims where these development projects are now; lessons can be learned from Europe’s highly-trafficked routes.

Offshore wind is progressing across several Eastern states. Two projects in New England begin construction later this year: Massachusetts’ 420-MW Cape Wind and Rhode Island’s 30-MW Deepwater Wind. In the Mid-Atlantic, Delaware has issued a lease to NRG though without an offtake mechanism; New Jersey sees revenue stream potential for 1100 MW; Maryland has a brand-new bill for 200 MW of offshore wind renewable energy certificates, splitting wind energy areas so developers compete for bids; Virginia’s leasing process is underway. Several states (Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia) have support for R&D and site identification but are not deregulated electric markets, so developers could end up bidding against vertically-integrated utilities. Offshore wind work also has progressed rapidly on the Pacific Coast despite the challenge of much deeper waters, where floating foundations already used in Europe will make inroads.

Demonstrating Innovations in Offshore Wind

Looking further ahead, the Department of Energy (DoE) is funding seven offshore wind demonstration projects amounting to 12-30 GW of grid-connected electricity, with a total potential generation cap of 36-82 MW. These projects are being pursued on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes; each are receiving $4 million over the next year to complete initial engineering, design, and permitting. There’s a required 20 percent cost-share for the first year, but typically the project participants are kicking in more (in some cases much more). The field will be narrowed to three projects in February 2014, which will continue to the next phase of completed design and permits, installed offshore, and achieving operations between 2015-17. Up to $47 million in DoE funding is in play over the following four years, pending congressional appropriations; total funding levels could reach $180 million. 

  • Fishermen’s Atlantic City Windfarm/Fishermen’s Energy, New Jersey: This project near Atlantic City (2.8 nautical miles offshore at 36 foot depths) will focus on innovative foundation types and installation techniques to reduce construction noise, monitor for animals at night, and extend construction to 24 hours a day. Another angle on this project is environmental monitoring with several wind measuring systems, including scanning LIDAR located atop a building on the beach. Construction is slated to begin by the end of 2013/early 2014 with installation in 2015; NJ BPU is the power purchaser. 
  • Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advanced Project/Dominion, Virginia: This project, encompassing two 6-MW turbines about 20 nautical miles offshore in 50 feet of water, is looking at several different foundation techniques, from the standard four-legged jacket to a twisted jacket, to see which is the most cost-effective for this area. Eventually they’ll do a detailed economic comparison on two foundations before settling on one by the time the DoE does its project downselect. Dominion also is looking at high-voltage cables that can be smaller-diameter and less-expensive, plus other installation techniques and vessels. 
  • Gulf Offshore Wind/Baryonyx, Texas: This site in the Gulf of Mexico, incorporating three 6-MW turbines about five nautical miles off the Texas shore in 60-ft depths, takes inspiration from the Ormonde wind farm off the UK’s west coast that was commissioned in 2012. That project has 30 5-MW turbines on jacket foundations; Baryonyx is improving the foundation design by using less steel, and working with Texas A&M on new blade designs that are more hurricane-resistant. They’re also looking at new resource assessment methods including dirigible-based system to measure wind speeds high up, and a land-based meteorological evaluation tower (MET) for resource assessment. Existing vessels in the Gulf will be converted for wind turbine installation.


  • WindFloat Pacific/Principle Power, Oregon: This semi-submersible project in deep water (1,200 feet) about 15 nautical miles off Coos Bay, Oregon, aims to improve upon a similar design already deployed off the coast of Portugal using a single 12-MW turbine, by proving out the scalability to bigger turbines (five 6-MW turbines), and also how multiple platforms interact with each other e.g. wakes. The floating platform can be mass-produced and completely assembled onshore, then towed out to the site, ballasted, and attached to preinstalled anchors and cabling — that reduces time, uses smaller vessels, and saves costs. This project also will use cables not typically seen in wind farms, floating beneath the surface between the platforms instead of stretching down to the bottom and then over. Another feature will be a floating LIDAR wind measurement scheme, and examine how turbines look back at other turbines. Installation is planned for 2017; Jordan Cove is the power purchaser. 
  • Icebreaker/Lake Erie Development (LEEDCo), Ohio: One unique challenge in offshore wind development in the Great Lakes is a limitation on the size of vessels; thus this project 7 nautical miles from Cleveland in 55-foot depths will incorporate nine smaller 3-MW turbines. Part of this project will evaluate multiple foundation designs to reduce ice loads, which can be substantially more stressful than wave loads, including a monopile with an “ice cone” and a tripod with bracing struts. They also will look at blades with special coatings to control icing. This project also aims to do a lot of work with turbine-to-turbine interference, rate controls, and control systems on the turbines. Installation is planned for 2015. (A caller during the Webinar Q&A pointed out that Grand Valley State has a buoy in Lake Michigan that is recording data that will be presented in a Windpower poster session.)
  • Aqua Ventus/U. of Maine: The first of two offshore wind projects in Maine, this one is semi-submersible and similar to the Principal Power project in Oregon except it will be built with concrete, with potentially significant savings in mass production using forms; the tower will use a composite material instead of steel. A 1/8 scale prototype will be deployed in May 2013 with a 20-kW turbine, the first floating turbine in the U.S., in 300-500 ft. depths 12 nautical miles offshore, about 2.5 miles off the idyllic island of Monhegan. The full-scale offshore wind testing facility, installed by 2017, will have berths for two 6-MW turbines for UM’s Aqua Ventus I plus three additional berths for testing.
  • Hywind/Statoil, Maine: Statoil is extending what it learned from a 2009 single-turbine floating installation off the coast of Norway, with this four-turbine (3-MW each) project 15 nautical miles off the Maine coast in roughly 500 ft depths. One difference is that this is a floating spar design borrowed from the oil and gas industry, in which a single column goes straight down about 250 ft but is not anchored to the bottom; synthetic mooring lines (not steel) form a three-point mooring orientation. It won’t be visible from land, the structures and mooring systems are relatively simple, and there’s minimal impact to the sea floor. Unlike the Oregon offshore demo project, the major components of Hywind will be assembled on land, towed to deeper water, hoisted upright, and then towed further out to the actual installation site. Installation is planned for 2016, selling power to the Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

Seven years ago when Lanard started in the offshore wind industry, the talk was about ~3-MW turbines, but now the industry has widened to 6-MW turbines with even larger ones on the horizon, “before putting anything in the water,” he noted. Meanwhile the industry has already driven down costs and improved efficiencies, from wind speed measurements to foundations. Floating foundations used to be dubbed “Generation Three” technologies; “now we’re calling them Generation 1.1,” he said. These seven projects are leading the way “to make this a very competitive industry — even before we have a carbon tax,” he added.

Answering an audience member’s question, Matzat emphasized the enthusiasm building among stakeholders, rather than opposition. Beyond stakeholder involvement, people in general “have to see them in the water, how positive they are, what they look like,” he said — showing that they’re “not something ugly on the waterfront” will make it easier for future large projects.

Lead image: Fishermen’s Atlantic City Windfarm, via DoE

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Jim is Contributing Editor for, covering the solar and wind beats. He previously was associate editor for Solid State Technology and Photovoltaics World, and has covered semiconductor manufacturing and related industries, renewable energy and industrial lasers since 2003. His work has earned both internal awards and an Azbee Award from the American Society of Business Press Editors. Jim has 17 years of experience in producing websites and e-Newsletters in various technology markets.

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