United States

United States

Offshore wind potential of US Atlantic coast 'must be unlocked'

Tapping offshore wind off the East Coast would provide electricity to one-third of the US and create 300,000 jobs

The huge potential of offshore wind energy along the US East Coast to help satisfy the electricity demands of the country while boosting the economy and creating jobs have been confirmed by studies released last week by an academic institution and a lobby group.

A team of researchers at Stanford University's department of civil and environmental engineering used a weather model to generate five years of hourly wind speeds at 90 meters above sea surface. They then modelled the generation potential of approximately 140,000 turbines, each 5MW in size.

"After factoring in standard transmission losses and turbine array inefficiencies, the US East Coast offshore winds were found to produce from 965 to 1,372 terawatt hours of electricity annually, enough to satisfy the demands of one-third of the United States, or all of the East Coast, from Florida to Maine," says a Stanford news release.

Steady resource

The offshore region from Virginia to Maine was found to have the most exceptional overall resource, the study found, with annual turbine capacity factors of 40-50%, shallow water and low hurricane risk. It also found offshore wind in the region often peaks during times when demand is highest. Turbines installed along the Maine-to-Virginia corridor could satisfy the peak-time power needs of these states all year round, except for the summer.

"We knew there was a lot of wind out there, but this is the first actual quantification of the total resource and the time of day that the resource peaks," said Mark Jacobson, who led the study team.

The Stanford study follows on the heels of a report issued by a coalition led by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) detailing the economic and environmental benefits of developing offshore wind energy off the Atlantic coast and potential obstacles to progress.

Jobs & growth

The report says that developing just 52GW of Atlantic offshore wind energy, about 4% of what the US’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory says is 1,300GW of potential in the region, would power 14 million homes, generate $200bn in economic activity and create 300,000 jobs.

"America’s Atlantic coast has some of the best offshore wind energy resources in the world, the technology to harvest it is ready right now, and we have workers ready to do the job," said Catherine Bowes, the NWF’s senior manager for new energy solutions and lead author of the report, titled The Turning Point for Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy.

The report notes that, while the US has no installed offshore wind energy at present, "recent actions by the federal government, along with bipartisan leadership from coastal state officials, have put critical building blocks in place — bringing us closer than ever before to finally tapping this massive domestic energy source".

Moving forward

But "urgent action" is needed to build on the momentum and ensure offshore wind becomes a reality, the report argues. It lists insufficient and unpredictable policies and incentives, historically low natural gas prices, and an uncertain permitting process as significant hurdles for the industry.

The report recommends expanding renewable energy mandates to create more favourable markets for offshore wind energy, providing predictable financial incentives, securing buyers for offshore output, investing in research, and enacting policies requiring stringent pollution reductions from all power sources to level the playing field.

While natural gas prices are low today, the report notes, energy investment decisions are being made for the next several decades. "By diversifying the region’s energy portfolio, offshore wind energy presents an opportunity for utilities to lock in at a known price for the long term, creating a hedge to protect against future fossil fuel price spikes."

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