The Business Network for Offshore Wind has played an important role connecting industry, developers, legislators at state and federal level and the regulatory authorities in the fast-growing offshore wind industry in the US
Not long ago, the only offshore windfarm in the US was Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, a small project dwarfed by the size of projects in Europe. Fast-forward to early 2019, and the US is on the verge of replicating European-scale offshore wind, potentially one day exceeding it. There is already a pipeline of offshore wind capacity of 5-8 GW on the east coast due to be installed by 2025, and a pipeline of in excess of 19 GW by 2030.
Construction of the first commercial-scale project in the US, Vineyard Wind, is expected to get under way by the end of 2019/early 2020 and projects and potential projects range up and down the east coast of the US, but the Business Network for Offshore Wind’s work is far from done. In fact it is growing all the time as the industry in the US develops, as other states recognise the potential of offshore wind, as the offshore wind supply chain in America begins to develop and as grid connection and transmission systems for electricity produced offshore come into focus.
Speaking to OWJ at the 2019 Offshore Wind Journal Conference – where he provided delegates with an update on the US market – Business Network for Offshore Wind executive vice president Ross Tyler said the network is focusing on a number of key areas in 2019. These include the need for more lease sales in US waters, the potential for offshore wind in California, and the important role that a 12-MW offshore wind energy demonstrator off the coast of Virginia Beach will play as offshore wind transitions into federal waters. Now that commercial-scale projects are beginning to be developed, grid connection has also become an important issue.
Commercial-scale projects may now be getting under way, but Mr Tyler said a small-scale offshore wind project consisting of just two turbines will be important to the industry as it is the first in federal waters. In terms of capacity, it is insignificant, but Mr Tyler said the project, led by Dominion Energy Virginia and developer Ørsted has an importance that far exceeds its size.
“From a capacity perspective we’re talking about two 6-MW turbines, but the importance of the project is that these will be the first turbines installed in US federal waters rather than state waters. Installing the demonstrator means that all of the federal agencies are going to have to work closely together to enable the permits to be issued.
“So, although the project is a small one in terms of capacity, it’s a very important one because the work that needs to be done will pave the way for future, utility-scale projects. Because it’s a federal project the work that is going to be done will be applicable to all of the waters around the US.”
The primary focus of offshore wind development in the US to date has been on bottom-fixed arrays off the northeast coast of the country, as highlighted on a number of occasions by OWJ. California has some of the best offshore wind capacity in the world and developing a floating offshore wind industry in the state could dramatically increase in-state renewable energy generation and support thousands of jobs.
In 2018, policymakers set California on a path to 100% clean energy by 2045, creating a need for leadership to develop more renewable energy generation options. The Network is keen to ensure that offshore wind will play a major role there but is aware that the Golden State already has significant onshore wind and solar capacity.
“Senate Bill 100 called for California to have 100% renewable energy by 2045, with an interim goal of 50% by 2025,” Mr Tyler told OWJ. “There is such a lot of potential, such a lot of capacity right along the coast of the state, it’s really important that legislators there understand how much offshore wind can do. California also has ambitious goals for electric vehicles, and we can expect a lot of growth in demand for electricity for electric vehicles, maybe even hydrogen-powered vehicles using hydrogen from renewable sources, so offshore wind can be a huge, significant part of that.”
As Mr Tyler explained, the Network is placing a lot of emphasis on California currently, and has embarked a two-year campaign to highlight the advantages of offshore wind in the state. It recently held meetings in Sacramento and San Diego and is meeting with legislators in the state to highlight its potential to them.
As also highlighted by OWJ, the results of recent auction for offshore wind leases offshore Massachusetts eclipsed the results of all seven offshore lease sales in the US so far, demonstrating the high level of interest in the US market, but more lease sales are required in order to promote investment in the US and provide long-term opportunities for the supply chain the industry will depend on.
Alongside other organisations, the Network is in a dialogue with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to ensure that an offshore wind leasing plan is developed that enables the industry to expand steadily and provides sufficient opportunity for an offshore wind supply chain to be created.
“We know that BOEM does have more lease sales on its radar,” Mr Tyler told OWJ. “They are working to find new areas in the northeast, maybe a little further offshore than recent leases. BOEM knows it needs to bring new lease areas forward. What is being referred to as the 'second round' of offshore wind leasing is essential so that we don’t have a boom and bust situation where work gets underway on the first round of projects but there isn’t sufficient capacity coming through to support the development of the supply chain in a timely manner. It takes time to develop new areas. BOEM needs to minimise the potential for conflict with other users of the ocean, but that work needs to start right away.”
The process of integrating a growing amount of offshore wind into the grid in the US and ensuring the stability of the grid with more and more offshore wind in it is also on the Network’s radar. This could be a challenging process, Mr Tyler believes.
“There are really two schools of thought about this at the moment,” he explained. “The first is that developers should have right and responsibility for grid connection. Some developers have already said they would like that. The other school of thought is that it might be preferable for a third party to take the risk.
“If developers take responsibility for grid connection and do it themselves, we might end up with a situation where we have multiple, overlapping export cables in some areas, so a lot of work needs to be done on grid expansion, interconnection options, technology and delivery systems,” Mr Tyler said.
The network believes there is work to be done on the offshore transmission system as a whole with respect to reliability and grid architecture options and on understanding the regional impact offshore wind will have on the existing onshore grid.
Beyond serving as a conduit through which electricity generated offshore is delivered, state involvement is critical to offshore wind development and once delivered to shore, electricity from offshore wind must be injected into the grid infrastructure, in compliance with the regulatory framework of the state and/or regional transmission organisation/independent system operator in the state.