Saturday, July 01, 2017

Floating Wind Plan Could Finally Crack California’s Offshore Market

Falling prices, improving technology, and smart public policies are changing the calculations.

Floating wind turbine (Photograph Credit: Untrakdrover | Wikimedia) Click to Enlarge.
Until recently, offshore wind simply didn’t make economic sense along the West Coast, because the steep continental shelf makes it prohibitively expensive to build the normal underwater foundations.  But the ability to erect increasingly large wind turbines on floating platforms has presented new possibilities, particularly in California, where state renewable-energy mandates must be met even if the electricity prices aren’t as cheap as fossil-fuel options.

A 2015 report from the Carbon Trust, an organization that promotes efficiency and emissions reduction, estimated that the average costs over the lifetime of a large commercial floating wind project would be around $110 to $123 per megawatt-hour.  That’s more expensive than natural gas, but already around the cost of fixed offshore wind.  Meanwhile, improving turbine technology and greater economies of scale are expected to drive down costs much further by the time a project like the one in Morro Bay would actually be built.  Floating wind also allows developers to go further offshore, where it’s possible to capture far more energy and minimize environmental impact, says Alla Weinstein, founder of Trident Winds, which proposed the project.

The confluence of greater energy potential, falling prices, and renewable-friendly public policies could finally open up a promising new segment of the wind industry, potentially offering a vast new supply of clean energy.
Dividing Allegiances
Whether or not this particular project ever gets built, by Trident Winds or another firm, the unsolicited proposal has already set in motion a bigger and more consequential undertaking: it prompted California’s governor, Jerry Brown, to ask the Department of the Interior to establish a state task force in coordination with Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, initiating the formal process of identifying promising areas for wind energy development off the state’s coastline.

The task force hopes to produce the list of potential sites around the end of this year, says Joan Barminski, BOEM’s regional director for the Pacific.  Following high-level environmental reviews of those locations, the government will hold lease sale auctions that will allow wind energy companies to bid on sites where they hope to build.  Trident Winds could face competition for the Morro Bay site, as the Norwegian energy company Statoil has since expressed an interest in it as well.

The potential for new energy generation along the coast of California is huge.  An assessment last year by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that offshore wind farms in the area could produce 112 gigawatts, most of it in waters 200 feet deep or greater, where floating wind is the most viable option.

Read more at Floating Wind Plan Could Finally Crack California’s Offshore Market

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