Offshore wind turbines have been successfully deployed in several European nations since 1991. Over the past five years, the US offshore wind industry has achieved major milestones. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has awarded 11 commercial leases for offshore wind development covering more than a million acres that could support a total capacity of 14.6GW.
Installation at the Block Island Wind Farm offshore Rhode Island. Photo from Deepwater Wind.
According to an analysis conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the US offshore wind resource is robust, abundant, and regionally diverse, allowing for offshore wind development that can be located near congested load centers with some of the highest electricity rates.
However, realizing the potential of US offshore wind energy will require addressing key challenges including: reducing the costs and technical risks associated with domestic offshore wind development, supporting stewardship of US waters by providing regulatory certainty and understanding and mitigating environmental risks of offshore wind development, and increasing understanding of the benefits and costs of offshore wind energy.
National offshore wind strategy
To facilitate the responsible development of US offshore wind energy, the US Department of Energy (DOE), through its Wind Power Program, and the US Department of the Interior (DOI), through BOEM, jointly drafted an updated offshore wind national strategy.
This strategy identifies the gaps that need to be addressed in order to facilitate the deployment of offshore wind and provides a set of actions that DOE and DOI will undertake to address these gaps and help the nation realize the benefits of offshore wind development.
US offshore regulations – Transparency and certainty
BOEM has made great strides in granting access to the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) for renewable energy development and is committed to incorporating the lessons learned to identify and improve the program where appropriate.
BOEM has received suggestions for specific changes to its regulatory process that could make developing offshore wind more efficient. The recommendations include:
Reducing the burden of regulatory requirements for meteorological buoys by, under certain conditions, BOEM reconsidering its requirements associated with buoy deployment.
Changing decommissioning financial assurance requirements by potentially providing for flexibility to offer decommissioning financial assurance later in the operations term, which could help ensure that decommissioning requirements are met in a manner that does not disadvantage offshore wind developers relative to other forms of new power generation.
Ensuring effective and timely plan reviews by ensuring that the process is more transparent, predictable, and expeditious to reduce scheduling uncertainty and financial risk.
Enhancing coordination around lease area identification by making adjustments to BOEM’s typical Task Force establishment process in order to ensure that planning and leasing efforts are better informed.
Feedback from developers also suggests that it is not practical to submit a construction and operations plan that includes all project specifics, and that a degree of flexibility would allow developers to make certain project-design decisions—such as which turbine to use—at a more commercially advantageous time later in the project-development process. This could potentially be accomplished by implementing the “design envelope” environmental review approach that is employed in certain European nations. With this approach, the environmental review is conducted by resource area, to include the greatest potential impact from a range of design options and parameters.
BOEM will consider these and other recommendations through a transparent, informed process, and make updates to its renewable energy program where appropriate.
Technology changes and US design standards
The global offshore wind industry has experienced an incredible acceleration of technological innovation over the past few years. Offshore wind turbines are increasingly cost-effective and more reliable as a result of being scaled up in size (megawatt power ratings). Furthermore, the industry is exploring new innovative techniques to open more areas for development by aggressively developing floating turbine technology. As a result, it is more vital than ever to establish US design standards that are in line with today’s technologies.
While physical site conditions along the US coastline bear some similarities to those in the established European market, there are key differences requiring additional scientific and engineering assessments. Currently, there is a significant lack of data describing meteorological, oceanographic, and geologic conditions at potential project sites, particularly for US-specific conditions.
Recognizing this knowledge gap, BOEM has partnered with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to select and fund appropriate renewable energy research in operational safety and pollution prevention related to offshore renewable energy development through the Technology Assessment Program. And, as part of the National Offshore Wind Strategy, DOI and DOE are partnering to facilitate the development of offshore standards for the US that build on knowledge gained from offshore wind experience around the world.
Offshore wind in the US is gaining momentum and the outlook is promising. We’ve executed the first right-of-way grant in federal waters for renewable energy transmission in support of the Block Island Wind Farm offshore Rhode Island, which will be operational later this year.
With 11 leases on the OCS now in the hands of developers and another two lease sales anticipated within a year’s time, there has never been a more exciting time for offshore wind in the US. BOEM is committed to working with its diverse stakeholders to ensure that the process is as transparent as possible as we continue to lease the OCS for environmentally responsible renewable energy development activities.
Darryl François, of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is responsible for managing the regulatory framework that governs the development of renewable energy projects on public lands of the US outer continental shelf. His responsibilities include policy development and management oversight of the review of technical and engineering design aspects of project plans and offshore survey activities and compliance with terms and conditions related to safe project deployment and operations. He received a BS in physics from Bradley University and a MS in geophysics from Pennsylvania State University.
US wave and tidal projects
The US Department of Energy (DOE) selected 10 organizations in late August 2016 to receive more than US$20 million in funding for new research, development, and demonstration projects that advance and monitor marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) energy systems. Three demonstration projects will integrate next-generation MHK hardware and software technologies into system designs. Their effectiveness will be tested during full-scale, open-water deployments over one year:
• Dresser-Rand was selected to integrate a 1MW air-turbine power system into the OceanEnergy oscillating water column wave energy device, doubling the power output of the previous design. DOE says the device’s performance will be demonstrated and validated during a year-long deployment offshore Oregon.
• Maine-headquartered Ocean Renewable Power Co. will enhance the performance of its tidal turbine system by integrating several advanced component technologies. The device’s novel floating design will move the turbine near the surface to capture higher flow velocities and will help reduce the cost of installation and on-water operations, ultimately lowering the cost of energy. The device will be deployed in the Western Passage off the coast of Maine.
• Seattle-based Oscilla Power will integrate cost-reducing technology advancements into its Triton wave energy converter. Oscilla’s unique device design features tethered connections between a surface float and an underwater heave plate. The device will be tested at the US Navy’s Wave Energy Test Site in Hawaii. — OE Staff