NCEL Blog

Offshore Wind: A New Frontier

February 14, 2019

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Coastal

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Private: Ava Ibanez
Project Manager for Ocean Policy

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With challenges such as climate change and energy security on the horizon, states are looking to transition to more types of renewable energy. States are beginning to turn to offshore wind as a new renewable energy source. At the end of 2018, offshore wind lease bids reached record amounts to build offshore wind farms off the coast of Massachusetts, indicating the rapid growth of this energy source. Offshore wind is similar to traditional onshore wind farms, which contributes 6.3% of the United States’ total energy usage. This blog post will explain offshore wind versus onshore wind, how offshore wind works, the growing trend of offshore wind both nationally and internationally.

States like Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas rely on wind farms for a substantial portion of their energy generation. Eleven states have at least 10% of their total electricity from wind power. An increase in offshore wind can allow coastal states to also reap the benefits of wind turbine technology for energy.
States like Iowa, South Dakota and Kansas rely on wind farms for a substantial portion of their energy generation. Eleven states have at least 10% of their total electricity from wind power. An increase in offshore wind can allow coastal states to also reap the benefits of wind turbine technology for energy.

Onshore Wind vs Offshore Wind

Offshore wind farms function just like onshore wind farms. Wind turns the propellers on a turbine and the revolving propellers turn a generator which creates electricity. Unlike fossil fuels, there are not limited sources of wind, making this type of energy renewable and reliable in the long term. Offshore wind has a particular advantage to onshore wind energy in that it has more consistent wind speeds and directions, resulting in fewer turbines needed to generate the same amount of electricity. Wind currents off the coasts are stronger than onshore ones, especially during the day, thus making the rotation of the generator more frequent. When combined with onshore wind, which is strongest during the night, offshore wind can serve as a reliable source of clean energy.

How Does Offshore Wind Work?

There are multiple ways to anchor wind turbines in the ocean. The main kinds are fixed foundation and floating wind farms. The method used is determined by the type of seafloor at the location that the wind turbine is to be implemented.  

  • Fixed foundation offshore wind farms are built by anchoring the pole of the turbines in the seafloor. They are often found in shallow waters and in places that have a solid seafloor, that will secure and hold the turbine up.  
  • Floating wind farms are usually on buoys and tethered to the ground. Floating wind farms are placed in deeper waters. 
This photo shows the different types of offshore wind farms as discussed above.  The three on the left represent the different types of fixed foundation wind turbines.  The three on the right side represent the floating wind turbines.  Within these two subgroups, there are many different variations of wind turbines to adequately fit the environment.
This photo shows the different types of offshore wind farms as discussed above. The three on the left represent the different types of fixed foundation wind turbines. The three on the right side represent the floating wind turbines. Within these two subgroups, there are many different variations of wind turbines to adequately fit the environment.

What is the State of Offshore Wind in the US?

There is currently one operating site, the Block Island Wind Farm, off the coast of Rhode Island. Although it is a small wind farm in comparison to other installations around the world, it does show some development in the United States turning to offshore wind. There are also projects underway to start the implementation of offshore wind farms in Massachusetts, Rhode IslandNew YorkNew Jersey. Additionally, VirginiaMarylandNorth Carolina, and Delaware have begun exploring the option of implementing offshore wind as well. Many of these states have turned to offshore to increase their renewable energy portfolios.

Offshore Wind Farms Across the Country

The United KingdomDenmarkBelgium, and Germany all harness offshore wind as a significant source sector of power generation. The major offshore wind manufacturers in these countries, such as Siemens, GE Energy, and Orsted, are also vying for the development permits in the United States.

With the United States successfully harnessing wind power on the land, states are beginning the transition to do the same on the ocean.