Picture from http://www.offshorewind.biz/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/Nordsee-Ost-Wind-Turbines-Installed-3.jpg of an RE Power (now Senvion) 6.15 MW wind turbine, one of 48. This array (Nordsee Ost) recently became operational in the North Sea off of the northwest coast of Germany..
As of the end of 2014, the worldwide wind turbine capacity stood at 370 GW (http://www.wwindea.org/new-record-in-worldwide-wind-installations/), and this is roughly a $US 600 billion investment. Of this, 114 GW has taken place in China (where installed turbines are much less expensive than in the rest of the world, are essentially only Chinese made, but at a cost…..), but the reasons why this has happened in China are quite often VERY different than why wind turbines are installed in most other places. On average this 370 GW of wind turbine capacity will supply over 75 to near 100 GW of electricity. In other words, these turbines have prevented another 75 to 100 incidences of massive stupidity (new nukes) that would endanger so many for the benefit of so few. You’re welcome, world…..
A small but growing subset is offshore wind turbine installations - almost 9 GW (2.4% of the total) are now operational, though this represents around $US 40 billion worth of investments (about 7% of the total). Of these, only China (565 MW) and Japan (~ 20 MW) have offshore turbines installed outside of Europe - the remainder have been installed in Europe, mostly England, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden, though France also has a huge ramp-up in the works. A really good report on Europe’s efforts can be found here: http://www.ewea.org/fileadmin/files/library/publications/statistics/EWEA-European-Offshore-Statistics-2014.pdf. As of the end of 2014, operating capacity in Europe was 8045 MW which should produce 29.6 TW-hr/yr, or averaging 42 % of rated capacity (about 3.7 GW. Offshore wind capacity is around 7% of Europe’s wind turbine capacity and roughly 13% of the average electrical output, so offshore wind is a much bigger deal than in anywhere else in the world.
The average offshore wind turbine size installed last year was 3.7 MW (roughly twice what the average onshore capacity per turbine was in the US last year). The commercialization of a new generation of “big boys” (6 to 8 MW) has now begun, with blade rotor diameters of 150 to 164 meters. Without a doubt, Europe (especially Denmark, Germany, Spain, Belgium France and the Netherlands) is where the technology to both make and install offshore wind turbines resides. China’s offshore wind efforts (they have 6 MW experimental units installed) to date have not produced the same results (operational quality) as has been done in Europe, and offshore wind is expensive, no matter where it is installed - in China or Europe. The same applies to Korea and Japan, where land area to install wind turbines is at a premium.
In the US (which could easily supply all of our electricity many times over with offshore wind, especially in the Great Lakes and on the East/Gulf coast), it appears that we will get our first offshore array in Rhode Island. The 30 MW Block Island project (5 x 6 MW Alstom (France) Halaide turbines designed for “moderate offshore winds”) just closed on its financing. As for the Cape Wind project… who knows? The US east coast is a great place to do this - shallow water, expensive electricity, decent winds and over 100 million people near it, but offshore wind has to compete with onshore wind, coal, old nukes and methane that is (for now) sold for below the cost to actually extract it from the ground. Furthermore, few politicians seem to have the courage to point out that offshore wind could be such a massive job creation exercise as well as a way to provide a huge part of the US East Coast electricty - especially in conjunction with pumped hydro systems installed in the nearby mountains (Appalachians, etc). Just the mere fact that turbines might actually be seen by rich people in their boats or hanging out at their coastal vacation homes/palaces is actually all that is now needed to kill off any offshore wind prospects. So despite our known need to switch to affordable and dependable renewables and to quit doing CO2 pollution as a by-product of electricity generation, well, it looks like offshore wind in the US is just going to be a curiosity for some time. And if it is ever done, it will be a great way to boost employment - in Europe. And also a great way to export dollars to Europe in return for imported parts, technology and installation systems. There will be no US leadership or even significant contribution in offshore wind. ESPECIALLY in NY State, where it probably has the greatest potential benefit….
As to why Europe is such a happening place for offshore wind - well, in essence, it really is all about job creation. There are also additional motivating factors, such as the need to limit the export of dollars for the import of fossil fuels like methane from Russia, Libya, Qatar/Iran and Algeria, the need to replace obsolete nukes which are not going to get replaced with newer nukes and the fact that the best winds in Europe are blowing across the Atlantic, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean Seas. With over 100 GW now installed onshore in Europe, some countries (notably Germany) are running out of room for new turbines. Germany has also installed more PV than any other country, despite having truly pathetic PV resources (in general, PV average outputs in Germany are less than 9% of PV rated capacity, though the nationwide average is 10.5% - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Germany). And since NO renewable electricity in Germany is subsidized via tax avoidance or grants, such projects have to make money (i.e. deliver electricity at a production cost less than the Feed-In Tariff price) or else they lose money. One of the reasons electricity prices are as high as they are in Germany is due to the huge PV investment (38.3 GW of capacity) of over $US 170 billion that has to be paid off while it only makes a yearly average of 4 GW of electricity. Between 4 to 6 times more electricity could have been delivered if that same investment had been done with wind turbines. In addition, PV now provides very few manufacturing jobs (dumping of product from China has pretty much exterminated the European PV industry) - in the initial years (2000-2010), most PV products were made in Europe. But “competing” with slaves is a tough act, and when installers insist on the cheapest product no matter what - well, no manufacturing jobs in PV in Europe is the result.
But China cannot supply the components or the products, let alone design them, at the price and quality needed for offshore wind in Europe, despite numerous attempts. So when a European offshore wind array is installed, this is a massive European job creation effort come to fruition. Many of the proposed offshore wind build-out scenarios have between 100,000 to 300,000 new jobs created in this effort. So far, there are ”only” 2.9 GW of future projects under construction, but in the last couple of weeks, another 1 GW of projects has been announced in the UK. Scotland is getting quite peeved at the slow pace of installs in the UK (which has more offshore wind/electricity made than any other country at 4.5 GW) - just the Scottish offshore winds alone could easily power up all of the UK.
What is actually being discovered is that the winds near Europe’s land are fast and steady, and unlike PV, an extremely consistent output tends to result from a combination of several of these widely dispersed geographically (Finland to Scotland to Spain). These turbines tend to act more like those proverbial “base load” generation systems, supplying at least some electricity more than 85% of the time, and often producing at a steady rate for weeks at a time during the windy season (October to April). This is a dagger stuck into the heart of the nuke industry if there ever was one which could doom that vampiric entity…..…. And combine the huge supply of new projects on the drawing board and under way with the new grid infrastructure (Germany, the Netherlands, UK, Belgium and Ireland are installing HVDC lines under the North Sea to eventually store and retrieve power in Norway and Sweden), this means that energy storage can be mated to offshore wind energy production. With that, who needs nukes? And what Europe probably needs more now than electricity is manufacturing and installation jobs. Offshore wind is a set of prodigious job creation systems - notably to make the turbines, installation ships, offshore substations, HVDC converters and the foundations, plus all the stuff that goes in to making those things. And the coup de grace - long term investors who are looking for a stable home for tens of billions of Euros/Dollars/Pounds really seem to like offshore wind, as do the bankers who collect fees for arranging such financing. Last year two more Euro 1 billion deals got arranged, along with numerous smaller ones financing component plants. It sure beats negative interest rates, and while there may be year to year variation in wind speeds, what is not questioned is that there will be more than enough wind to power up Europe blowing across the Atlantic, Baltic and Mediterranean for as long as humanity will exist.
As for the US, we also have a prodigious onshore wind resource - high quality wind on a massive scale that is at least 20 times the present electricity consumption level. And nearby Canada has at least this, too - so over 40 times what the US now consumes for electricity could be made only using high quality wind resources and fast speed wind land based wind turbines in the US and Canada. But meld that with Low Wind Speed Turbine turbines, and in general, why bother with offshore. Except for a few instances (NY City/Long Island, Boston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Washington DC/Baltimore/Maryland/Virginia), offshore wind is redundant, or at best it just provides quality winds/electricity from those winds at high demand times. In this country, the idea that government energy policy should provide massive economic stimulus/job creation (except for pollution based approaches, like offshore oil and gas, fracking for oil and methane) has somehow been trashed, especially by those living large on THEIR SUBSIDIES and avoided external costs. And that is the core problem with respect to offshore wind power in the US at the present time.
So, if you want to know when the US will finally get a decent offshore wind effort going, the answer appears to be when this country once again gets serious about industrial jobs as wealth creation for the bulk of its people as well as for the nation at large. We really don’t have that as a policy with the exception of fracking. But ever since that financial bubble/fraudfest got popped when oil prices dropped for $100/bbl to near $50/bbl, even that has been extinguished. Now all we have is automobile and truck manufacture, but that is a stagnant industry. Offshore wind is a massive user of steel and skilled metalworking, aluminum (wiring), but we just aren’t that into those kinds of things anymore. Too bad….
About that turbine in the picture - check this out:
So next time you hear Gov. Cuomo heaving a mighty pitch to the nearby media access devices about an offshore wind farm off of Long Island, ask yourself this question, do you think he really cares about creating jobs in the metal working/manufacturing sector? Or would he rather be raising money with his bankster and hedge fund buddies, trying to figure out new ways to extract money from the public school system into their waiting arms? Would he risk the wrath of rich people who don’t want to see such things as they yacht around in the Atlantic near Long Island? Especially if this becomes an exercise in taking money away from the natural gas industry….?