While several other countries use offshore wind farms to generate energy, no such systems exist in the United States and only two are in the works. But thanks to a new initiative unveiled yesterday, offshore wind energy development along the States’ coastlines could soon see rapid development. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced that the government has pledged to spend up to $50.5 million over the next five years to make offshore wind farms viable.
Officially called “A National Offshore Wind Strategy: Creating an Offshore Wind Industry in the United States,” the plan is part of Obama’s goal of generating 80 percent of the nation’s energy from renewable energy sources by 2035.
The new strategy calls for studying established wind energy areas in the outer continental shelf, including four areas off the coasts of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. The areas were originally designated for offshore oil drilling. Because of the relatively shallow water depths in these areas, they are considered prime spots for development. Over the next few months, areas in the north and south Atlantic will also be identified.
Chu and Salazar said that over the next five years, they will collect information about the environmental and geophysical attributes of each area, and engineers will work towards developing innovative wind turbines that could make offshore wind power more cost effective and overcome the current technical challenges surrounding installation, operation, and grid interconnection. More than half of the designated funds — $32.5 million — will go towards developing new technologies.
Chu noted that about 78 percent of the nation’s energy demand lies in 28 coastal states. He said that the designated area in Virginia has 94 gigawatts of capacity, and if even just a tenth of that could be captured, it would be enough energy to power 10 million homes.
The main obstacle for offshore wind developments is the high cost. Chu said the goal is to be able to reduce the cost to levels where it could be competitively priced without subsidies, but that may take awhile. However, some areas, like Norfolk, see the potential development as a ripe job market and new local industry.
WHY THIS MATTERS
The government’s offshore wind strategy has the potential to create breakthrough technologies that could change the way offshore wind energy is developed and harnessed. If the plan is successful, it will result in less expensive, more reliable offshore wind power, making the clean energy source more viable. Most importantly, though, it will help us use less fossils fuels and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.