The winds of change are expected to blow across the States as plans progress towards rapid renewable energy expansion – with offshore wind being a key player in the US decarbonization strategy.
The development is bolstered by the Biden Administration’s commitment to the climate agenda (it has set a national goal of 30GW by 2030 which could create 80,000 jobs in areas such as manufacturing, installation, and maintenance) and comes hot on the heels of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA).
The IRA was signed into law this summer by President Biden, who went as far as hailing the bill as “the most important investment that we’ve ever made in our energy security and developing cost savings and job-creating clean energy solutions for the future”.
There is little doubt the $740bn landmark law will go down in American history as a key weapon in tackling the climate crisis. Not only will the IRA live up to its name by aiming to curb inflation and seek to lower prescription drug prices, but additionally - in a milestone victory - it will promote the transition to clean energy and provide investment for domestic energy production, paving the way for the US to increase its capacity for harnessing offshore wind power.
Although the bill aims to reduce US carbon emissions by 40 percent before 2030, it has raised the bar in terms of workload as the US currently has just two offshore wind farms in operation; a 30MW wind farm in Block Island (owned by Ørsted North America) and a Dominion Energy-owned 12MW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind pilot project.
A New Opportunity
Now there is a ripe opportunity to unleash the greater potential offshore wind can offer with the IRA allocating additional funds to plan and develop the transmission of electricity generated by offshore wind. Expansion in the offshore wind industry will also generate new supply chains, in addition to increasing new jobs and economic opportunities.
Obstacles which have historically hindered wind energy expansion in the US include a lack of access to the specialist turbine installation vessels, caused by a shortage of ships (there are just 12 available across the globe to provide the turbines) and complying with regulations that protect the environment, species and habitat to prevent damage to biodiversity; an understandable sticking point with stakeholders.
But with the IRA’s focus on investing in the necessary infrastructure to position the US advantageously within the renewable energy space, coupled with the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) claims that offshore wind could eventually generate 18 times the global electricity demand, this form of renewable energy is revelling in the limelight.
Not only is the development of wind energy expected to generate thousands of new jobs, but its impact will also upskill existing renewable energy workers, equipping those showing interest with the appropriate tools to transition from solar to wind. Investment is being ploughed into the health and safety aspect of the offshore wind process and training is likely to entice an influx of solar energy workers over to the wind space.
According to the Department of Energy’s recent offshore wind market report, there were 24 offshore wind power purchase agreements in the US, totalling nearly 17,600MW at the end of May.
Problems at Hand
So why has the US been lagging with offshore wind farms until more recently? In short, because it is no mean feat.
Firstly, all US offshore wind projects must be hauled through bureaucratic complexities and are subject to both state and federal laws.
The project owner needs to comply with the terms covering the procurement of permits and approvals before development can progress and due to the strict regulations, some projects failed to reach the completion stage over the period of several years.
This is coupled with the requirement for new transmission infrastructure for the grid to transport the generated electricity from the offshore wind farm.
Then there are the actual components of the turbines themselves to consider. These enormous pieces of kit (which include the rotors that hold the blades and the generators) are currently made in Europe and require specialist transportation in the form of the installation vessels.
Despite these challenges, the drive to build a clean energy economy has moved up a gear and most of the capacity will be in East Coast states where the wind is more prevalent and consistent.
According to the Department of Energy, the levelised cost of energy for US offshore wind projects dropped by approximately 13 percent last year from 2020 figures, and prices are expected to drop to around $60/MWh by the end of the decade. The project pipelines rose by 13.5 percent in the 12 months ending May 31 with around half the planned capacity off the coasts of Massachusetts and New York.
A Glimpse Ahead
If rules and regulations are met efficiently and the market demand continues, offshore wind development will ramp up in volume, but this is also dependent on other factors including successful collaboration between several parties (including the addressing of stakeholder concerns) port infrastructure and access to the low-stock installation vessels.
How well positioned do you think the US is in becoming a world leader in offshore wind energy? If you work in the renewable energy space and would like further discussion about offshore wind potential, or are interested in a career within the wind energy space, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Bailie Milton is an experienced member of Acre’s senior-level search function within sustainable energy across the United States. As part of Acre’s Renewable Energy Team, Bailie leads retained mandates for Associate level hires through to senior appointments. Bailie provides subject matter expertise as she has over 4 years’ experience within the renewable energy sector. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss more.