The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) plan to regulate carbon emissions is just the latest challenge facing the U.S. electric power system. Technological innovation is disrupting old ways of doing business and accelerating grid modernization. Earlier this year, AEE released Advanced Energy Technologies for Greenhouse Gas Reduction, a report detailing the use, application, and benefits of 40 specific advanced energy technologies and services. This post is one in a series drawn from the technology profiles within that report.
Offshore wind turbines are located on bodies of water where there is access to stronger wind resources than are typically available on land. These turbines convert the kinetic energy of the wind to electricity with no greenhouse gas emissions. Generally, these turbines are fixed directly to the sea floor, though technologies are being developed to mount turbines on floating platforms, which will enable deployment in deeper water or farther offshore. In general, because of the higher expense of foundations and installation compared to land-based wind turbines, offshore turbines are sized larger (3 MW to 5 MW, with even larger units in development), which enables greater output per turbine.
As of 2012, there were 85 operational offshore wind farms worldwide, located mostly in Europe. While no offshore wind farms have yet been installed in the U.S., 11 projects with a planned capacity of nearly 4,000 MW have reached an advanced stage of development. Once in operation, these projects would place the United States as a leader among global offshore wind energy producers.
Offshore wind farms tend to be more expensive to install than land-based projects, but these farms capitalize on frequently stronger and more reliable wind resources and are located closer to large population centers, reducing the need for long-distance transmission. As the offshore wind power industry continues to expand globally, costs are expected to decline just as they have for onshore projects. These offshore wind projects provide a zero emission source of electricity, displacing generation by emitting technologies. According to the state of Massachusetts, 1 MW of offshore wind can power 400 homes and reduce grid powered carbon emissions by 2,600 tons.