Offshore wind energy generation always seems to be a distant reality, for the United States at least. But the development pace could pick up with the planned auction of over 742,000 acres off Massachusetts that could produce enough electricity to power half of the homes in that state, said the U.S. Department of Interior on Monday.
The Interior Department, through its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, plans to hold the auction on Jan. 29 and then lease the watery real estate for commercial wind energy production. The plan will be the largest competitive offshore wing energy leasing effort by the government to date, tripling the amount of total area available to erect wind turbines and pipe electricity to shore.
The growth of offshore wind energy development will create opportunities for tech companies beyond those in the wind turbine equipment business. Running a power plant and ferrying that electricity via undersea cables will require a wide array of other gear and software to manage energy generation and transmission.
[company]Google[/company] has shown an interest in the offshore wind market. Back in 2010, the company had lined up partners to build 350 miles of transmission lines from New Jersey to Virginia to bring electricity from 6GW of offshore wind turbines to shore.
That plan, being carried out by Atlantic Grid Development, has shifted since to first building transmission lines across New Jersey that would transport electricity around the state whether there’s offshore wind energy or not, according to a Bloomberg report last year. It appears that the overall plan remains to serve offshore wind farms one day.
Harnessing wind power offshore holds a number of appeals. It doesn’t take up giant swaths of land and usually isn’t visible enough to attract big opposition from residents and environmental groups. Offshore winds also tend to blow stronger and more consistently than the onshore variety. A turbine that makes use of wind at 16 miles per hour average wind speed can produce 50 percent more electricity than wind at 14 miles per hour, according to federal research.
And because many major cities are located along the coast, transporting electricity from wind turbines out in the sea could require fewer miles of transmission lines than, say, transporting wind power across state lines.
Don’t expect offshore wind farms to have smooth sailing, however. The 420MW Cape Wind project off Nantucket Sound in Massachusetts, started more than a decade ago, received government approval in 2010 and has faced lawsuits and other efforts to stop its development from local residents who see the project as an eyesore and a harm to the fishing industry. Cape Wind is still on deck to be built.
Offshore wind market is just getting started in the U.S., where there are no commercial projects in operation. Worldwide, most of the giant wind turbines spinning mostly in European countries such as Denmark, Germany and the United Kingdom. Those offshore wind farms can be massive scale: the 630MW London Array, the largest offshore wind farm, was completed last year.
Roughly 7GW of offshore wind farms have been built worldwide, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Energy in August. The report highlighted 14 offshore wind projects totaling 4.9GW that are in advanced stages of development.
The 742,000 acres to be auctioned off by the ocean energy management bureau in January will be about 12 nautical miles off Massachusetts coast (see map). The region could support 4GW to 5GW of wind farms, enough to light up 1.4 million homes, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
So far, the government has signed off on seven offshore wind farm leases, including Cape Wind.
Here is the list of 12 companies that qualify to bid come January:
- Deepwater Wind New England, LLC
- EDF Renewable Development, Inc.
- Energy Management, Inc.
- Fishermen’s Energy, LLC
- Green Sail Energy, LLC
- IBERDROLA RENEWABLES, Inc.
- NRG Bluewater Wind Massachusetts, LLC
- OffshoreMW, LLC
- RES America Developments, Inc.
- Sea Breeze Energy, LLC
- US Mainstream Renewable Power (Offshore), Inc.
- U.S. Wind, Inc.