The U.S. looks to rival Europe and Asia with massive floating offshore wind plan

The Block Island Wind Farm, photographed in 2016, is located in the waters off the east coast of the United States.

DON EMMERT | AFP | Getty Images

The White House said Thursday it was targeting 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035 as it seeks to compete with Europe and Asia in the nascent sector.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is launching coordinated actions to develop new floating offshore wind platforms, an emerging clean energy technology that will help the United States lead in offshore wind,” said a statement, which was also published by the US Department of the Interior. .

The announcement said the 15 GW target would provide enough clean energy to power more than 5 million homes. It builds on the administration’s goal of 30 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030, an existing ambition that will mostly be met by offshore wind installations.

Along with the 15GW ambition, a “Floating Offshore Wind Shot” would “aim to reduce the costs of floating technologies by more than 70% by 2035, down to $45 per megawatt-hour,” he adds the statement

“Applying floating offshore wind technology at scale will unlock new opportunities for offshore wind power off the coasts of California and Oregon, the Gulf of Maine and beyond,” he said.

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Floating offshore wind turbines are different from fixed bottom wind turbines, which are rooted to the seabed. One of the advantages of floating turbines is that they can be installed in much deeper water compared to fixed-bottom turbines.

In a fact sheet outlining its plans, the U.S. Department of Energy said about two-thirds of the U.S.’s offshore wind potential existed “over bodies of water too deep for wind turbine foundations to” fixed bottom” which are secured to the bottom of the sea”.

“Harnessing power over waters hundreds to thousands of feet deep requires floating offshore wind technology: turbines mounted on a floating base or platform that is anchored to the seabed with mooring lines,” he said. “These facilities are among the largest rotary machines ever built.”

In recent years, a number of large companies have made plays in the floating offshore wind sector.

In 2017, Norwegian energy firm Equinor, a major oil and gas player, opened Hywind Scotland, a five-turbine, 30-megawatt facility it calls “the world’s first floating wind farm.”

Last year also saw a number of major developments in the emerging industry.

In August 2021, RWE Renewables and Kansai Electric Power signed an agreement that would allow the two companies to “jointly study the feasibility of a large-scale floating offshore wind project” in the waters off the coast of Japan.

Norwegian company Statkraft also announced that it had commenced a long-term purchase agreement relating to a large floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland. And a few months later, in December 2021, plans were announced for three major offshore wind developments in Australia, two of which were planned to incorporate floating wind technology.

In terms of offshore wind more broadly, the US has a long way to go to catch up with Europe.

The nation’s first offshore wind facility, the 30 MW Block Island Wind Farm, only began commercial operation in late 2016.

In comparison, Europe installed 17.4 GW of wind power capacity in 2021, according to industry figures WindEurope.

Change is coming, however, and in November 2021 a project called the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the United States broke ground.

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