offshore wind

Developers face significant headwinds as they seek offshore clean energy

Offshore gales beckon kilowatts and profit.

However, building wind turbines or wave energy devices in an environment where weather regularly whips white caps to a frenzy and drives commercial fishermen to safe harbor brings higher development costs and technological challenges.

Those are not expected to dissuade a new generation of clean energy prospectors that is projected to install between 58 and 71 gigawatts of generation capacity, representing $52.2 billion to $78.6 billion in power production, by 2017 worldwide, according to a new study by Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research. A gigawatt equals 1,000 megawatts or enough to power about 330,000 homes.

On another promising but more technologically uncertain front, Pennington, N.J.-based Ocean Power Technologies Inc. plans to install a specially designed buoy to extract energy from waves off Reedsport, Ore., reported Ocean Power Magazine (no relation). The company is awarding four contracts to Oregon companies in connection with the manufacture and deployment of its PB150 PowerBuoy.

The magazine reported that the new contracts brings the investment by the company into the local economy to more than $6 million, "creating or saving up to 100 manufacturing and marine services jobs at the four companies and their suppliers."

In offshore wind, most of the development will take place in Europe with the United States accounting for between 2.9 and 6.2 gigawatts, said study authors Peter Asmus, Pike senior analyst, and Brittany Gibson, Pike research associate.

"The United Kingdom is projected to lead the world with $12 billion by 2017," they wrote. Asia won't be far behind.

The UK's leadership is no surprise as the British have been harvesting wind energy offshore for the past decade and are not expected to slow down. The country is also encouraging development of wave energy off the shores of Scotland.

But expect China, a big mover in clean energy from development of solar installations to the manufacturing dominance of solar panels, to make a major push.

The United States isn't taking any of this sitting down. The U.S. government has unleashed a relative torrent of measures to accelerate President Obama's clean energy objectives. The president this year announced the goal of generating 80 percent of the nation's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said offshore wind received the coordinated might of the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Department of Energy to "support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority wind energy areas in the mid-Atlantic that will spur rapid, responsible development of this abundant renewable resource."

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced the approval for construction of the Cape Wind Energy Project off Nantucket in April, calling it the nation's first offshore operation. Construction could begin later this year.

Salazar also said the government is working to synchronize research and development initiatives with "more efficient, forward-thinking planning" for offshore wind, committing up to $50.5 million in project funding.

Wind turbines are getting bigger and more efficient. Innovations in design are expected. Still, transmission lines remain a major hurdle and cost, especially offshore.

But Google is a believer. Its Atlantic Wind Connection transmission line will stretch 350 miles off the coast from New Jersey to Virginia. Officials say the line will link  6,000 megawatts of offshore wind turbines, or thequivalent of 60 percent of wind energy brought on line in 2009 and "enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households."

Sun, wind & geothermal get federal boost

The U.S. government has unleashed a relative torrent of measures -- but a relatively modest amount of cash -- to accelerate President Obama's clean energy objectives.

And because they involve wind, sun and geothermal, it's almost as if the god of thunder, also known as The Mighty Thor, son of Odin, played a role. The connection, I admit, is a little obscure, but Marvel just ran the first of the ads for its live-action movie on the wielder of the mystic Mjolnir during the Super Bowl.

The genesis of all this hubbub is the President's goal of generating 80 percent of the nation's electricity from clean energy sources by 2035.

The U.S. Department of Energy wants to bring solar prices down to about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour with its "SunShot" initiative. It has a long way to go. reports that the high solar condition industrial industry index is 16.59 cents per kWh.

DOE's plan is to help reduce the cost for utility-scale installations by about 75 percent to about $1 a watt.

I can hear Thor say, "By the bristling beard of Odin," right about now. (Although I'm a closet comic buff, I got the phrase from Jared at

"America is in a world race to produce cost-effective, quality photovoltaics," said Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, in a statement. "These efforts will boost our economic competitiveness, rebuild our manufacturing industry and help reach the President's goal of doubling our clean energy in the next 25 years."

U.S. outlay: $27 million for "projects to support the development, commercialization, and manufacturing of advanced solar energy technologies."

Offshore wind received the coordinated might of the U.S. Department of Interior and DOE to "support offshore wind energy deployment and several high priority wind energy areas in the mid-Atlantic that will spur rapid, responsible development of this abundant renewable resource."

Wind remains a big departure from the old-style turn-it-on-and-let-it-run practices of years past in electricity production. Wind turbines are getting bigger and have to be in often remote areas where the wind blows, generating sporadic energy. Transmission lines have to be upgraded or new ones built. And back-ups into the existing grid have to be built to accommodate power spikes as more wind power comes on line.

In the Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research report "Electricity Transmission Infrastructure," out last year, officials wrote: "In order to reap the full benefits of renewable energy and smart grid technologies, the capacity and information-carrying ability of transmission systems must be increased substantially."

No easy task.

So Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Energy Secretary Chu announced what they dubbed "major steps forward."

"This initiative will spur the type of innovation that will help us create new jobs, build a clean energy future, and compete and win in the technologies of the 21st century," Salazar said.

He also said the government is working to synchronize research and development initiatives with "more efficient, forward-thinking planning."

U.S. commitment: up to $50.5 million in project funding.

The final naturally occurring energy targeted (at least in this round) is geothermal.

The DOE wants to test the reliability and efficiency of geothermal power generation at oil and gas fields to determine the low-temperature technologies. Work will be done at the Rocky Mountain Oilfield Testing Center near Casper, Wyo. to reduce costs.

DOE's Geothermal Technologies Program is currently paying for 17 projects with a capacity of 3 gigawatts, or enough to power 2.4 million homes by 2020, officials say.

One of the sites, Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3 near Midwest, Wyo., produces oil and 45,000 barrels of 190-degree water per day from one formation and 28,000 barrels of 210-degree water per day from another. Initially discarded, heat is now extracted from the water and used to operate a 250-kilowatt generator.

Obama said we're going to have to go after and develop cost-efficient ways of extracting energy from all forms of alternative energy. And this pushes the needle forward.

I'd add that we'll have to do it more efficiently and with better regulation. And as my friend in the Texas oil patch says, "Don't forget oil." We will need the stuff and the assistance of the energy companies that produce it to improve our air and national security through domestic ingenuity.

And as for Thor? He'd be all for it. Just be careful of his brother the Evil Loki.

Photo: Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 3 waste water discharge courtesy

Wiring up green energy ain't easy

Europe and the United States see quite a bit of potential in green energy.

Yet, problems arise immediately. Renewables are expensive and often in remote spots far from existing power lines.

Take offshore wind power generation.

The North Sea, East Coast and other sites offer phenomenally blustery conditions but huge challenges. Those difficulties raise the question of how to get that power safely and efficiently to market without putting the price per kilowatt out of reach?

The same holds true for wave-generating devices, Mojave solar panels or geothermal sites. They're out in the middle of nowhere, relatively speaking. Reminds me of the random efforts over the past 50 years to build a dam on the Yukon River up in Alaska. Not only is that crazy from an environmental perspective, but who the heck would use the power? Bears? Yet, there were some proponents who continually brought it up.

In the Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research report "Electricity Transmission Infrastructure," out earlier this year, officials wrote: "In order to reap the full benefits of renewable energy and smart grid technologies, the capacity and information-carrying ability of transmission systems must be increased substantially."

Not a simple task.

Stringing cable across any sea floor is difficult and expensive but not prohibitive. Google plans to spend billions on the Atlantic Wind Connection, which will rest 15 to 20 miles offshore and run from New Jersey to Virginia, and just reported that ministers from 10 European nations have agreed on construction of a new offshore electricity grid.

Meanwhile, companies are increasing their purchase of "green" energy. For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently recognized Starbucks for doubling its green power purchase, increasing its ranking to No. 4 on EPA’s National Top 50 list of the largest green power purchasers.

Starbucks green power purchases amount to more than 573 million kilowatt-hours annually, or about 55 percent of the organization's electricity use, EPA said. The EPA's top 50 is headed up by Intel at No. 1, Kohl's at No. 2 and Whole Foods at No. 3.

The desire is there. What it means and the debate over where it's going gives my colleague Sanford Nax and I something to contemplate. We don't really have much of an idea, but work to keep our outlook positive as we discuss the future of green energy.

Pike predicts the domestic power transmission market will grow by 3.5 percent over the next five years and by a compound annual growth rate of 1.5 percent internationally over the next decade. Renewables and capacity and reliability enhancements are among the drivers of the move, researchers said.

As evidenced by the deal by Europe, much depends on government involvement. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden and signed a memorandum of understanding for the new offshore grid that would connect a 140 gigawatt offshore wind farm planned for the North Sea to grids on land.

In this country, the U.S. Department of Energy has launched a big push to help jump start the effort of offshore power. I wrote this fall that DOE's embrace is a big step for a neglected resource many believe has the potential to supply a serious percentage of this nation's electricity demand.

Perhaps the role of government is to ease the regulatory process somewhat and let the private sector see what floats, or doesn't. At the SJVCEO, we believe the San Joaquin Valley perfectly positioned to capitalize on clean energy in its many guises, and we'd certainly love to see rapid development in all green sectors.

Offshore wind energy gets cash, fame

Offshore wind has received a gale of attention in recent weeks.

More than 100 people showed up for a high-profile workshop this week in Chicago about developing wind energy in the Great Lakes. The event, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and the White House Council on Environmental Quality, drew wind developers and manufacturers, folks from nonprofit organizations and other industry experts as well as representatives from federal, state and local regulatory agencies.

The DOE also this week joined with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and two other agencies to announce about $5 million in research awards meant to study siting and permitting of offshore wind turbines and ocean energy generated from "waves, tides, currents and thermal gradients."

Also this week, reported that federal, state and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth officials have announced plans to develop a 300-square-mile "marine renewable energy technology test bed" just south of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The site is to be dubbed the the National Ocean Renewable Energy Innovation Zone and will allow companies to test and develop technology that harnesses energy from ocean wind, waves, tides and current.

And earlier this month, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a report that said harnessing even a fraction of the nation's potential offshore wind, estimated at more than 4,000 gigawatts, officials said, "could create thousands of jobs and help revitalize America's manufacturing sector, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, diversify U.S. energy supplies, and provide cost-competitive electricity to key coastal regions."

"The nation's oceans represent a major potential source of clean renewable energy, and DOE is committed to developing the innovative technologies that will harness that potential," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, in announcing the money for research projects.

Chu said DOE's partnership with other federal agencies will help streamline development of offshore renewable energy projects, create jobs and enhance national energy security.

Commerce Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the grants will help understand offshore renewable energies environmental impacts and how to incorporate "appropriate mitigation measures from the outset."

The awards include:

  • $499,000 to Auburn, Wash.-based Parametrix for planning and siting research. 
  • $499,000 to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Bioacoustics Research Program in Ithaca, New York for studies to evaluate how sounds from construction and operation of offshore wind turbines affect surrounding environments. 
  • $745,000 to the University of Rhode Island for monitoring and study of offshore wind to provide regulatory agencies "with a comprehensive, yet flexible means of assessing the impacts of a broad range of offshore renewable energy resources projects on marine ecosystems." 
  • $746,000 to the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Scientists in Seattle, Wash. for evaluating acoustic technologies to monitor aquatic organisms at renewable sites. 
  • $499,000 to Pacific Energy Ventures in Portland, Ore. for studies and monitoring of renewable energy in the ocean. The intent is to create a system that can be used anywhere. 
  • $497,000 to the University of Arkansas Center for Advanced Spatial Technologies in Fayetteville, Ark. to create a system that "will allow a user to design the spatial layout and content of an offshore facility, import and prepare geospatial data that will affect visibility, run a series of sophisticated visual analyses, define atmospheric, lighting and wave conditions and, finally generate one or a series of realistic visualizations from multiple viewpoints." 
  • $497,000 to the University of Texas at Austin's Bureau of Economic Geology for "carbon sequestration monitoring and risk assessment." 
  • $748,000 to the University of Massachusetts' Marine Renewable Energy Center in Dartmouth, Mass. to "develop a technology road map for the application of advanced spatial survey technologies, such as buoy-based LIDAR, to the assessment and post-development monitoring of offshore wind and hydrokinetic renewable energy resources and facilities."

Another offshore wind project catches air

Another offshore wind project appears to be moving forward.

Garden State Offshore Energy says it will install a floating platform to gather wind data after receiving approval from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

The proposed 350 megawatt project 20 miles off the New Jersey coast joins the federally approved Cape Wind off Massachusetts and the less advanced Lake Erie project 10 miles from Cleveland as well as others in the race to develop offshore wind power. The climate for offshore wind turbines got a big gust of support recently from the U.S. Department of Energy, which is taking comments on a draft plan for developing the as-yet-untapped energy resource.

Garden State plans to anchor the 100-foot-long buoy affixed with monitoring devices to assess wind and water conditions. The project is expected to cost $1 billion and be completed in 2013.

"Receiving this approval ... is an important milestone for our project," said Rob Gibbs, vice president of Garden State.

The monitoring buoy was constructed by renewable energy consultant Natural Power in Norway and arrived in the United States last week, officials said. The company expects to have the buoy in place off the coast of New Jersey by the end of the year, pending permits from various federal agencies.

Garden State won New Jersey's 2008 solicitation for an offshore developer. The company is a joint venture between Newark, N.J.-based energy company Public Service Enterprise Group and Providence, R.I.-based Deepwater Wind.

Photo: Courtesy Garden State.

US gets serious about offshore wind

Offshore wind may soon take a cue from Oliver Twist and ask for more. Way more.

The U.S. Department of Energy is taking comments on a draft plan for developing offshore wind power and sponsoring seminars about creation of an offshore industry.

At this point, the industry is in its infancy with only one project, Cape Wind in Massachusetts, approved. About four others are close behind in the regulatory wings.

But the DOE's embrace is a big step for a neglected resource many believe has the potential to supply a serious percentage of this nation's electricity demand.

Officially dubbed "Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States: A Strategic Work Plan," the 49-page draft was drawn up for DOE by its Wind and Water Power Program. The fact that a wind and water program even exists is a big deal.

There was a time when DOE meant nothing but nuclear. The agency traces its history back to the Manhattan project in 1942 (look for parallels to SyFy's "Eureka" this season) and was finally realized as DOE after President Carter made the switch from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1977. But I digress.

The draft spells out the hurdles -- high cost, technical challenges and connecting to the grid -- and objectives. Permitting is also a huge issue to navigate. How does a new technology get by regulators? Gives me a headache just thinking about the requirements the first projects will have to produce.

Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. will be one of the permit pioneers, 10 miles off the lake's coast near Cleveland. Officials with the organization are working closely with regulators and an experienced development team.

The draft offshore wind plan outlined some pretty significant goals. It establishes an initiative to "achieve a scenario of 54 gigawatts of deployed offshore wind generating capacity by 2030, at a cost of energy of 7-9 cents per kilowatt-hour."

That's huge. The interim target is 10 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020 at a much more modest cost of 13 cents kilowatt hour.

The initiative will seek to bolster technological development, remove market barriers and help create demonstration projects. The effort will "augment" about $100 million allocated to offshore wind research through stimulus funds, or the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

The plan says most offshore wind development is in Europe but points out that the United States has vast potential due to its significant coastlines. And it doesn't even specify Alaska -- talk about coastline. Heck, toss a cable across the Bering Sea and sell excess to Russia and China.

Europe's heavily subsidized program is about a decade old. Some 39 projects have been built with more than 2,000 megawatts of capacity. "The EU and the European Wind Energy Association have established aggressive targets to install 40 GW of offshore wind by 2020 and 150 GW by 2030," the plan said.

DOE looks as if its willing to assist. The agency has held a couple of recent seminars (one in Cleveland) and is actively working to get input on the draft plan and publicity for the issue.

It's not a Manhattan Project, but I'd like to hear Liam Neeson say, "Release the Kraken," and be referring to a flood of approved projects welcomed by coastal residents. Of course.

Offshore wind farms gain watery foothold

A wind farm is expected to sprout from Lake Erie five to 10 miles offshore from Cleveland.

It'll start small at 20 megawatts or so. But the developer, nonprofit Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. has bigger plans, aiming for 1,000 megawatts over the next decade.

"We want Northern Ohio to be the epicenter of a new freshwater offshore wind power industry with associated manufacturing, shipping, and construction jobs," said Lorry Wagner, Lake Erie Energy Development Corp president, in a statement Tuesday about the naming of the project's development team. "Today's milestone will position our region as a model for innovation in clean energy and help spur economic development in Northern Ohio."

Construction is expected to start sometime in 2012.

Wagner's project treads groundbreaking territory. Should his team, which includes Bechtel and two other companies with big experience in wind and offshore development, succeed in navigating regulatory hurdles, their project would be one of a select few in the nation and a beacon to others.

The sight of wind turbines may have become common in many regions and people like former oil man T. Boone Pickens may have bought heavily into the concept. But that's on land. Offshore wind farms just don't happen in the United States.

Perhaps this is best illustrated by the nine-year controversy surrounding the Cape Wind project was approved in April by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Yet, the 130 turbines, which are scheduled to be installed off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass. by 2012, remain politically sensitive.

Jim Motavelli in a story that appeared soon after the Cape Wind approval wrote on that the project was the first to be federally approved offshore.

The U.S. Department of Energy in its 2009 Wind Market Report said: "2,476 MW of offshore projects have advanced significantly in the permitting and development process. Of those projects, three have signed or proposed power purchase agreements with terms and details have been made public ... and a variety of other recent project and policy announcements demonstrate accelerated activity in the offshore wind energy sector."

Motavelli, a New York Times contributor and author, said DOE has reported the United States has the capacity to generate significantly more than 20 percent of its energy from wind.

Wagner's Lake Eerie project is one of the steps to realizing that potential. He said on the phone Tuesday that they're taking it slow and keeping the project small to start. He said Ohio regulators are working with his team -- Bechtel Development Co. Inc., Cavallo Great Lakes Ohio Wind LLC and Great Lakes Wind Energy LLC -- to craft a strategy for moving forward.

After all, while offshore natural gas development in the lake -- on the Canadian side -- is common, offshore wind power is a completely new concept and none of the environmental concerns has been addressed. Nor is there a specific process by which to address them.

Wagner said his development team was chosen for its talent and experience.

Indicators suggest more regional governments will be working to craft regulations for offshore wind power. The feds likely will have a lot more projects to review and include in their annual wind reports about offshore installations from here on out.

I'd like to see a couple of monster wind machines in Shelikof Strait in Alaska. I recall a trip in 1971 returning from Kodiak Island in my uncle's 50-foot fishing boat riding 30 or 40 foot seas and a relatively warm post-Christmas wind beating the heck out us. May as well harness that. With such resources -- and a long cable -- wind power could energize the Kenai Peninsula.