The US has been quietly preparing for a huge expansion in wind power

As the cost of offshore wind power has been driven down by Europe and China, companies in the US are planning enough capacity to power millions of homes.

Americans owe Europe a thank you. Two decades ago, Germany’s new renewable energy feed-in tariff stimulated the market for rooftop solar power. A decade ago, Denmark, Germany and the UK began to build offshore wind farms that rivalled the output of conventional thermal power plants.

In both cases, billions of pounds of investment pushed the technologies down the cost curve until they could compete against coal, nuclear and gas. Europe pioneered innovations in project finance, built domestic supply chains and gained valuable expertise in how to complete large solar and offshore wind farms. 

By the time the US solar market took off in 2010, installations in Europe had helped to make solar competitive with fossil fuels. The phenomenon is poised for a repeat with offshore wind. 

The Danes built the first offshore wind project at Vindeby in 1991. A decade later, they built the first commercial-scale project, Middelgrunden, in Copenhagen’s harbour. By the end of the last decade, developers in Europe were building projects with a capacity roughly equivalent to a typical nuclear reactor, such as Hornsea 1, a 1,218MW wind farm off the coast of England. 

Three-quarters of global offshore wind capacity is installed in Europe. Large-scale deployment has succeeded in making offshore wind power competitive with fossil fuel electricity. The cost of offshore wind power has fallen by 62 per cent since the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to Ørsted, the world’s largest offshore wind developer.

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Now the US is ready to enter the market. Many of the companies that built the offshore wind industry in Europe, such as the project developers Ørsted and Iberdrola, and the turbine makers Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas, are looking to the US for growth opportunities.

The US is one the world’s most promising offshore wind markets. The technical potential of the offshore wind energy resource is more than 2,000GW, nearly double the nation’s current electricity generating capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), a Washington, DC-based trade group. “With stable policies in place,” notes AWEA, “the Department of Energy found the US could develop a total of 86GW of offshore wind projects by 2050.” 

Despite the potential, the US has managed to connect just 42MW of offshore wind capacity to the grid to date. The country’s first commercial project, the 30MW Block Island Wind Farm, off Rhode Island, came online in December 2016. Ørsted and utility Dominion Energy completed construction in June 2020 on Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind, a 12MW pilot project, and the first wind farm in federal waters.

The US has fallen well behind Europe and China, the top market for new offshore wind installations last year, but its project pipeline is vast – equivalent to the cumulative global offshore wind power capacity installed by …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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