NEWS: Summer Breeze Makes Us Feel Fine: First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm Complete! Plus: Robot Cars a Reality

Posted by Lexie Briggs on Aug 19, 2016 10:48:33 AM



Image courtesy of Jeff Grybowski, originally posted to Twitter.

It’s officially late August, and, if there’s any justice in this world, you’re reading this on your smartphone or tablet while lounging on a beach somewhere, feeling the sea breeze stir your hair. Even if you’re sitting in a stuffy office or cubicle farm, take a second to imagine the whiff of salt air, the cries of seagulls, and – and I can’t emphasize this enough – the sea breeze. That pleasant breeze is about to change the way some Americans get their electricity. It’s an offshore wind news update here on Advanced Energy Perspectives! (Bonus, if you read to the end: robot cars.)

It’s official! Rhode Island’s Block Island project, which “broke water” last year, is complete! In a tweet on Thursday, Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski announced that the company had finally done it: Deepwater Wind has completed the installation of actual wind turbines that will actually deliver actual wind-generated electricity to the actual grid. The project will begin delivering electricity to the grid this fall, after testing. Locking the 15th blade onto the five-turbine project was a “momentous occasion,” Grybowski told the Associated Press.

Li’l Rhody’s li’l wind turbine project may have an outsized impact on the advanced energy economy. Although offshore wind is a major source of electric generation in countries like Germany and the United Kingdom, the United States has consistently lagged behind. Deepwater Wind proved it could be done, and the only remaining question is… who’s next?

If Massachusetts has its way, the answer will be the Bay State. A bill passed earlier this month requires the state’s electric utilities to contract for 1.6 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2027. (The Block Island Wind Farm has a capacity of 30 MW.) Earlier this year, BNEF financial analysts predicted 2 GW of offshore wind capacity in the Northeast would cost about $10 billion to build out and create thousands of jobs. Three companies already hold leases from the federal government to build offshore wind in federal waters off Massachusetts’s coastline, and it’s these companies – Deepwater, Dong Energy, and OffshoreMW – that will be competing for the contracts mandated by the new law. 

The bill also includes a mandate for 9.45 TWh of “clean energy generation,” the definition of which includes hydroelectric generation, solar and wind, or a combination, along with the transmission needed to get it to Massachusetts. 

“This will start a new U.S. industry,” Massachusetts House Speaker Pro Tem Patricia Haddad (D) told Utility Dive in an interview. Haddad, who represents the South Coast town of Somerset, was the driving force to include offshore wind in the bill, which was filed by Gov. Charlie Baker primarily to procure hydropower from Canada. Somerset is about to lose Brayton Point, the largest coal-fired power plant in Massachusetts, which is now scheduled to retire, and nearby New Bedford has been counting on hosting offshore wind development ever since the ill-fated Cape Wind project was proposed to be built from there. (Cape Wind is precluded from competing for these new offshore wind contracts. Lawmakers apparently didn’t want to stick their hand back in that blender.)

Could New Bedford once again become a beacon of light in a world no longer lit by whale fat? It’s likelier now than ever before.

Meanwhile, on the Pacific coast, California is feeling a little left out of the offshore wind party. “Offshore wind farms are finally coming to the United States,” Rob Nikolewski writes in The San Diego Union-Tribune, “but don't expect to see spinning blades off the shores of California any time soon.” While the Northeast has had skin in the offshore wind game for decades, with multiple companies vying for federal permits, the Seattle-based Trident Winds is the only company that has applied for a lease off the coast of California. It looks likely that they’ll get exactly what they asked for: This week the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced it is issuing a Request for Interest for the lease area.

Trident Winds is thinking big: The proposed project would anchor 100 turbines, with an expected capacity of 765 MW. But Trident Winds also faces a huge issue that their counterparts on the Atlantic Coast do not – the continental shelf off the coast of California plunges immediately into water too deep for a foundation in the seabed. What’s an offshore wind developer to do? Simple: look to the oil industry for help.

The solution is to float wind turbines on platforms, anchoring them down but not bolting foundations to the ocean floor. While floating offshore wind turbines are relatively new (with just over 15 MW of floating wind capacity installed), it’s a technology that has been tried and tested on oil rigs. Statoil ASA, Norway’s largest oil producer, is working on a project to anchor five floating turbines off the coast of Scotland with a capacity of about 30 MW. Think of it as a sister project to Block Island, a sort of transatlantic high-five where all the fingers are wind turbines. 

Bloomberg reports that the company took meetings in Washington and New York in May. “We think the U.S. is ripe for offshore wind,” Irene Rummelhoff, executive vice president of new energy solutions, told Bloomberg (“unabashedly,” Jennifer Dlouhy clarifies). “We are seeing potential in the Northeast. We love California.”

Finally, let’s talk about robot cars. In the news this week is Uber, whose first driverless fleet is being deployed in Pittsburgh, according to several news sources that are not The Onion. Initially, Uber hastens to say, drivers will still sit behind the wheel, a failsafe for if things go wrong. That said, it’s probably only a matter of time. Initially, Uber is rolling out a fleet of Ford Fusions, but the company is also working with Volvo to develop a custom Uber driverless SUV. Plus, the company acquired Otto, which we previously reported is working to build a kit to equip trucks for driverless highway driving that could be installed on trucks already on the road today, or in a factory setting for trucks hitting the road in the next few years. 

“Together with Uber, we will create the future of commercial transportation: first, self-driving trucks that provide drivers unprecedented levels of safety; and second, a platform that matches truck drivers with the right load wherever they are,” the company said, in a statement published on Medium, which means the Uber of long haul trucking exists and it’s just Uber and also there are robots involved. 

A question, though: Is all this technically, uh, legal? Well, PennDOT is working on it. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the PennDOT Autonomous Vehicle Task Force is hard at work developing recommendations for new laws covering, you know, robot drivers. Meanwhile, nobody is concerned. “I don’t have a concern that Uber is moving ahead before the task force has finished its recommendations,” said Roger Cohen, co-chair of the committee. A spokesman for the Pittsburgh mayor’s office is similarly unconcerned… “as long as there is a licensed driver behind the wheel, as there will be in the Uber rollout.”

I, for one, welcome our robot drivers/overlords. Deaths from human error and negligence on U.S. roads total more than 30,000 a year, on average. We may be ushering in a new era of Skynet-enabled chauffer bots, but they’ve got to do better than that. 

That’s it for this week’s news! Keep up to date with all advanced energy goings on by subscribing to our newsletter. Click the button below: 

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Topics: News Update