April 12, 2021


The immense untapped potential of offshore wind (Ryan Cooper, April 12, 2021, The Week)

America does have quite a lot of wind capacity installed already. Thanks to steady reductions in the cost of the resulting power, states across the country have been throwing up wind turbines by the thousands. Last year saw the biggest amount of wind power capacity added in American history, at 14.2 gigawatts (making for a total of 118 gigawatts). Utility-scale wind farms produced 338 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2020, or about 8 percent of the utility-scale total (up from less than 1 percent in 1990). Iowa gets fully 58 percent of its electricity from wind, while Kansas gets 43 percent.

But almost all of those turbines are on land. The U.S. has just two small offshore wind farms, with a piddling 42 megawatts of capacity put together (or about 0.04 percent of the total), though several more are being planned.

This must change. Offshore is an ideal location for wind turbines, for two reasons. First, land is scarce, particularly in and around cities where power is most needed. As the White House plan points out, the proposed New York Bight wind energy area will be quite close to the New York City metro area, the biggest concentration of people in the country. Second, wind tends to blow harder and more steadily offshore (and more so the further one gets from land), which counteracts the biggest weakness of wind -- that it doesn't produce in calm conditions. The land of the Eastern Seaboard is relatively calm, but just offshore wind speeds increase dramatically.

Several European countries have taken advantage of these facts to harvest huge amounts of power from ocean breezes. The U.K. now gets about a quarter of its power from wind, and about 43 percent of that from offshore (making it the biggest offshore wind producer in the world). Germany also gets about a quarter of its power from wind, of which about 20 percent comes from offshore. Denmark gets about half of its power from wind, of which about 27 percent comes from offshore. (Denmark is also planning to build a wind island in the North Sea that will eventually have 10 megawatts of turbines, or almost six times its current offshore capacity.)

Posted by at April 12, 2021 12:00 AM