Future Forward: The Future Is Robust for the Burgeoning U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Industry
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This particular webcam interview was recorded by Todd Danielson, the editorial director of Informed Infrastructure. You can view a video of the full interview at the top of this page or by visiting bit.ly/3rhvJ1V
A University of Delaware study estimated the development and construction of offshore wind farms in the U.S. holds out the realistic possibility of an almost $70 billion CAPEX revenue opportunity to businesses in the U.S. offshore wind supply chain on the Atlantic Seaboard by 2030. The same study forecasted that U.S. offshore cumulative installed wind capacity could grow to 16 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, enough energy for more than 11 million homes.
Having long been mired in red tape, the U.S. offshore wind industry may finally be ready to take off after the Biden administration recently removed regulatory hurdles for the 800MW $2.8 billion Vineyard Wind project, located more than 15 miles off the coast of Massachusetts.
“I firmly believe the future is robust for offshore wind in the United States, because the appetite is there to develop and build these large-scale wind farms,” states Knoll. “We need to provide sustainable energy that meets various states’ mandates for clean energy and the country’s increased need for electricity in general as we transition more into electric cars, in particular.”
Although she laments the slow start to offshore wind compared to European counterparts, Knoll can find a silver lining. “The time lag allowed the offshore wind market and industry to develop technology that has driven down the cost of electricity generated by these farms, making it more attractive from a competitive industry standpoint,” she notes.
Mandates and Roadblocks
After several states passed aggressive clean-energy goals for as early as 2030, and the Biden administration adding clean-energy goals of its own, Knoll believes offshore wind facilities must be built as soon as possible to reach those goals. But she’s also aware that environmental regulation must be a consideration, and some of these aggressive goals may not be met.
“Those [environmental] concerns are legitimate concerns, and they have to be addressed and dealt with in a collaborative way to make sure people understand that offshore wind farms can cohabitate successfully with birds and the fishing industry,” she says.
However, Knoll also believes the benefits to offshore wind are substantial, and that we can achieve many of the clean-energy goals with proper ambition.
“It’s to our benefit as a country that we achieve these goals, or at least most of them,” she notes. “People are motivated, and when we have a motivated group of talented people, wonderful things can happen.”
The Role of Engineers
“It’s an exciting time to be a creative engineer who’s interested in offshore wind,” she adds. “These engineers continue to need to wear their problem-solving hats.”
As examples, Knoll notes that U.S. engineers will need to design and build offshore wind farms that can withstand 200-mile-an-hour hurricane winds that aren’t typical off the coasts of Europe. Engineers also need to design and manufacture wind turbines that last longer than 20 years, and they need to design and install jackets that can withstand seismic and ice activity for placement in the Great Lakes. For projects on the Pacific coast, they need to design and install wind turbines that work in deeper waters.
Engineers also need to design and manufacture wind turbines that are more efficient to drive down the price of electricity and make the farms more profitable for private investment.
“I have no doubt technology will continue to drive the wind industry, and a lot of the items on the to-do list will be conquered in the next few years,” adds Knoll.
An Exciting Time for Wind Energy
Although it’s still cheaper to build onshore wind farms, they require a lot of land. And when looking at the East Coast, particularly in places such as New York and New Jersey that are heavily populated, the land isn’t there to build these types of wind farms, so offshore becomes even more attractive. Knoll hopes the Vineyard project approval starts the offshore wind energy chain reaction.
“There’s roughly 30 other projects in the works right now down the East Coast, and that’s going to be exciting,” she says. “These large offshore wind farms will generate a lot of power and a lot of jobs, both onshore and offshore.”