The wind is always blowing somewhere, and now Rhode Island – the smallest state, has become the first to install offshore wind power in the USA. Deepwater Wind is installing five 6-megawatt wind turbines built by GE that have 80 meter long blades.
The project was first proposed seven years ago – while nearby competing projects in Massachusetts, proposed 13 years ago, still haven’t gotten a start (though it looks hopeful something will happen). The project will deliver its electricity to Block Island, a popular vacation spot where homeowners sometimes pay greater than $0.40/kWh (over double the national average) or burn diesel fuel. Deepwater Wind received $290M in financing last year and signed a 20 year Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with National Grid to purchase the wind energy, the power company that serves the entire state of Rhode Island (and Block Island). The coastline of Rhode Island and Massachusetts have some of the best wind resources in the USA.
The United States, through the end of 2015, has installed 74GW of onshore wind power – producing enough electricity to offset the use of 20 million US homes. Onshore wind is some of the cheapest electricity in the country – and this is before we consider that it is a non-polluting source of electricity. In March of 2016, at 1 AM, wind was producing 48% of the electricity demanded in Texas.
Europe has more than 3,200 offshore turbines producing around 11 GW in clean electricity, according to the European Wind Energy Association. China has hundreds of offshore wind turbines, with plans to grow the sector 30-fold by 2020
In July of 2015 Denmark was producing 140% of their electricity demand – necessitating exporting the extra energy to surrounding countries. Nationwide, it produces just under 5% of the USA’s electricity via greater than 48,000 wind turbines. Globally, greater than 430GW of wind power is installed – with 12GW of that being offshore (and most of that volume is installed in Europe).
One challenge of wind power is that it is not ‘dispatchable’ – dispatchable energy can be turned on and off as it is needed, whereas sources of energy like solar and wind produce on a less predictable schedule. Additionally, wind power resources are not equally distributed across the county.
This hasn’t stopped some companies – like Google that purchases from at least 13 different wind farms – from investing heavily in wind for their own usage. However, for the power to be distributed across the country the way it is needed, the Department of Energy is working hard to develop high Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) transmission lines that can move power long distances with low losses. Recently, the DOE approved a 705 mile, $2.5 billion project – the Plains & Eastern Clean Line Project – that will transport 4GW of wind energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle region east to Arkansas, Tennessee and other parts of southeastern US.
The scale of a wind tower is really amazing – the below image is of two workers atop one of the Rhode Island towers.
Deepwater Wind already has a bigger project on the books – a 90MW 15 turbine installation 30 miles off of the South Fork of Long Island. Depending on permitting, construction could start as early as 2019 with that project commencing operations in 2022.