Riding a wave of limitless possibilities, floating offshore wind turbines could be a prominent source of renewable energy soon. Several deepwater “floaters” are already in operation around the world — primarily in Europe — and plans are in motion for the first such U.S. project.
The plan is to install a floating wind turbine in the Gulf of Maine. Towering 850 feet above the ocean, the platform will be tethered to the seabed with thick metal cables. It is expected to be completed by 2030 and generate up to 15 megawatts of electricity. Eventually, the project would expand to an array of 10 such turbines and produce up to 144 megawatts of energy.
Similar projects are being discussed for the Eastern and Western seaboards and the Gulf of Mexico. California recently held its first floating offshore wind lease sale. The auction included five sites about 20 miles off the coast of Morro Bay and Humboldt County. And earlier this year, six offshore wind leases off New York’s and New Jersey’s coasts were auctioned to five energy companies.
Currently, most offshore wind turbines around the world are affixed to the bottom of the sea floor on sturdy foundations in shallow waters close to the coast. Floating turbines can be placed farther from shore, taking advantage of stronger winds and not being an eyesore to coastal communities.
More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coast, so offshore wind sites are close to electricity-demand centers.
However, to make such projects a reality, some challenges remain, such as the construction of massive underwater transmission cables that can carry electricity back to land. In addition, deepwater floating wind platforms now are more expensive than fixed-bottom towers.
In September 2022, the Biden-Harris administration announced a plan to boost the development of floating offshore wind platforms in the United States. The Floating Offshore Wind Shot aims to accelerate breakthroughs across engineering, manufacturing, and other innovation areas, with the goal to reduce the costs of floating technologies by more than 70 percent by 2035, to $45 per megawatt-hour.
Larry Gray is former editorial director of Institutional Real Estate, Inc., parent company to Real Assets Adviser.