All of us here are electric car fans. Why else would we be here? Even though we like the idea of driving on electrons instead of gasoline, we have to recognize that a lot of the electricity we use to recharge our beloved electric cars comes from burning fossil fuels. A cleaner grid goes hand in hand with the green car revolution. An offshore wind farm that utilizes steady ocean breezes to make electricity seems like a smart way to reduce the amount of fossil fuel we burn to make the electricity we need.
Offshore wind farms are common in Europe. When I visited Denmark briefly in February, its coastal waters were dotted with wind turbines from horizon to horizon. What will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm — 300 turbines making 1,800 megawatts, of electricity, was just approved this week in the U.K. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the technical potential for offshore wind in the U.S. to be more than 4,000 gigawatts, much more electricity than the entire country currently consumes.
Still, offshore wind power has been slow to arrive in the US. A proposed wind farm off the shores of Cape Cod has been delayed for 20 years while lawyers, regulators, and residents argue over whether it should be built at all. Donald Trump weighed in recently, showing his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. Wind turbines “kill birds. All the birds,” The Donald intoned. The message is that wind power can expect an uphill battle in a Trump administration.
This week, the construction of America’s first offshore wind farm was completed in the waters off Block Island, Rhode Island. The collection of 5 turbines will now undergo testing before it goes live in November. At present, residents of Block Island get their electricity from an power plant that burns diesel fuel. The cost of electricity on the island is among the highest anywhere in the country. Once the wind farm becomes operational, it is expected to supply most of the island’s needs. Not only will greenhouse gas emissions be significantly reduced once the old diesel generators are shut down but the cost of electricity for islanders is expected to be slashed by 40%.
Building the wind farm required a lot of the expertise gained from European wind installations. The towers and turbines were sourced from GE Renewable Energy. It imported the towers and blades from Europe. Each 650 foot tall turbine has three blades, weighing 29 tons apiece and more than 150 feet long. The towers, which come in three sections, weigh 440 tons. Putting all this together required an armada of specialized vessels that have been transporting the components from a staging area in Providence to the site, where final assembly took place. The last turbine blade was installed last week.
At $290 million, the new wind farm was not cheap, but it is less expensive than early offshore wind projects in Europe. Ninety percent of all offshore wind is in Europe today, where there are 11 gigawatts installed. “The U.S. is going to have the great advantage in that in Europe,” says Anders Soe-Jensen, who is the head of offshore wind for GE Renewable Energy. “We have been trailblazing this road already. Mind you, we cannot compare directly. We [in Europe] are executing much more. We have a supply chain already that is geared for serial production. Serial production will always be cheaper than individual projects.”
To paraphrase Neil Armstrong, this is “One small step for offshore wind power, one giant leap for renewable energy.”
Source: Fast Company/Coexist Photo credits: Deepwater Wind/GE