We’ve all seen the pictures of wind farms in the deserts of the western United States or on vast farms in the American heartland. Tall, white, slender towers dot the landscape. Their sleek blades silently and continuously turn to collect a consistent source of clean and renewable energy.
Today wind farms in the U.S. can produce almost 75 Gigawatts of electricity according to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). That’s enough energy to provide power to almost 21 million American homes – for an entire year.
The amazing thing about the potential for wind isn’t what the industry has done so far here at home. It’s what European and Asian countries have known for years and what a few U.S. states and companies are trying to implement in the domestic wind industry – Offshore wind farms.
Some key facts about offshore wind:
- According to the U.S. Department of Energy research data, more than 4,000 Gigawatts of power could be collected in waters along the coasts and the Great Lakes. That is four times the combined generating capacity of all U.S. electric power plants.
- Offshore wind turbines can produce 3.4 MW of energy each, compared to just 1.9 MW for land-based turbines.
- Wind farms built miles off the coast don’t require infrastructure like roads and local services. The wind resources out there are more abundant, stronger, and blow more consistently than they do on land.
- The Department of Energy has allocated over $200 million since 2011 for offshore wind research, technology development, market acceleration, and advanced technology demonstration.
European and Asian countries have been harnessing offshore wind energy for years. There are more than 1,400 offshore farms around the world, employing 60,000 people. The United States has yet to claim its first but that will be changing later this year.
The five turbine farm is located three miles off the Rhode Island coastline near Block Island. It will produce 6 MW of energy when in full production and can supply almost all of the state’s electricity needs for a year.
The Block Island project, though, is only a taste of what is coming for this area of the country.
The Deepwater ONE project is a 256 square mile site that will boast 200 plus turbines when it is fully built and could produce over 1 GW of energy from the site. It’s located more than 20 miles off the coast of Rhode Island and will produce enough energy to power Rhode Island, Long Island and parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts.
These two projects will be the first wind farms along the coast of the continental United States to come online but they won’t be the last. The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is actively working with every coastal state to develop the vast wind energy resources sitting just off their coasts.
North Carolina tops their list for the best places to develop the next generation of offshore energy production. And it could be closer to reality than you think.
The energy experts at BOEM have determined that the winds off of our coast are some of the strongest and most consistent in the country. These winds could potentially produce over 4.5 Gigawatts of energy when fully developed.
For the last five years BOEM has been working with the NC Renewable Energy Task Force (NCRETF). This group of representatives from the Governor’s administration are taking the process to the next level. They have identified three locations, two near Wilmington and one near Kitty Hawk, that represent the best places for the first farms to be developed.
Those sites have gone through numerous studies conducted by BOEM to look at the commercial viability and environmental impacts of the three locations off the NC coast. They have also asked for, and received, public comments from both the Governor’s Administration, interested groups, and local communities.
The next step is for the sites to go up for federal auction to developers interested in designing and building North Carolina’s first offshore wind farms. This is not a quick or easy process. It can be derailed at any time by governmental action, legal actions, or issues arising from the costs and complexities of developing the sites. But it is a significant step towards the realization of an offshore wind energy industry in North Carolina.
The advances in technologies and construction in the much more mature European industries are driving down overall material and construction costs. North Carolina is perfectly situated to be the next American example of offshore energy production while becoming the hub for what the industry can become nationally. All we need is the will and leadership to grab the opportunity right in front of us.