The U.S. could soon emerge as a leader in floating offshore wind development, according to a new report.
The Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) highlighted the U.S. and four other countries -- Italy, Ireland, Morocco, and the Philippines -- for their potential to capitalize on the next round of floating offshore wind growth. Scotland, South Korea, and Japan were the "first movers" on floating offshore wind (FOSW), the report noted.
The five countries were selected from a group of 115 with the potential for FOSW development based on site conditions, government policies, development targets, and the costs of alternative forms of clean energy.
Kincardine Offshore Wind (Courtesy: Cobra Group)
GWEC estimatesd that the global FOSW market is on track to grow from 17 MW in 2020 to 16.5 GW in 2030. The annual deployment will likely reach 1 GW by 2026, they believe, a milestone reached by the fixed-bottom offshore wind industry in 2010.
The industry remains in a pre-commercial phase but may offer great growth potential. More than 80% of waters suitable for offshore wind development are 60 meters or deeper, according to GWEC. Many of the world's load centers, meanwhile, are along coastlines.
Scotland is home to one of the world's largest FOSW projects. The 50 MW Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm includes a 2 MW Vestas turbine in addition to five 9.5 MW Vestas turbines. Principle Power provided its Windfloat platform to the project.
Why the U.S.?
The GWEC highlighted the U.S.'s floating offshore wind potential, which it said is supported by renewable energy targets and favorable government policies.
The Biden administration has a goal of developing 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030. The fixed-bottom offshore wind industry is blossoming along the U.S. East Coast, demonstrated by the recent $4.37 billion lease auction for development rights off New York and New Jersey.
GWEC noted that government support is the single-most-important factor for the growth of the floating offshore wind industry. The federal Investment Tax Credit provides a 30% credit for offshore wind projects that begin development before 2026, a potentially critical advantage for the U.S. market. An extension to the ITC was included in the now-stalled Build Back Better Act.
The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, meanwhile, is equipped to handle floating offshore wind lease management, as it does with fixed-bottom development.
Floating offshore wind technologies present opportunities for development in otherwise unreachable waters off California, Oregon, and the Gulf Coast, the report said.
BOEM is conducting environmental assessments of offshore wind areas in Northern and Central California. Auctions for the rights to develop these waters are expected to be held in September.
According to California State Lands Commission, "floating offshore wind is the most suitable technology" to harness offshore wind energy along the California coast due to the depths of the waters.
The Morro Bay Wind Energy Area has a development capacity of 3 GW while the Humboldt Bay Wind Energy Area can support 1.6 GW. Both areas have wind speeds averaging around 9 m/s.
Challenges face the U.S. floating offshore wind market, however, in the forms of electric grid and supply chain constraints.
The Humboldt Bay area can support arounds 150 MW of additional capacity without substantial grid upgrades, according to the report. Morro Bay, in Central California, is less constrained due to the impending retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.
The U.S. floating offshore wind market is expected to lean heavily on Europe, Asia, and the U.S. East Coast for supply chain support. The GWEC report estimated that vessel availability is likely to present a "major bottleneck" in the U.S. due to the Jones Act, which prevents non-U.S. built vessels from operating on offshore wind projects.
For example, in early March Equinor and bp said they planned to invest up to $250 million to build an offshore wind staging and assembly hub at a Brooklyn, New York, port. The facility is expected to meet the needs of the companies' ongoing projects as well as the region's burgeoning offshore wind industry.