While solar energy has been, in many ways, the poster child for renewable energy, wind power is starting to gain ground for its ability to supply energy in scenarios that solar cannot. The windmills of the Netherlands are already cemented in our cultural memory, but even in the United States, wind farms provide roughly 5% of the country’s power, and many would like to see this number increase.
However, one of the better ways to generate wind power is through construction of offshore wind farms; though more difficult to produce than turbines on land, the constantly-blowing ocean winds provide a more consistent source of power than their land-based counterparts. Despite this, offshore wind farms have faced stiff opposition in the United States over concerns that they may obstruct views or harm oceanic wildlife.
Conversely, Europe has been much more enthusiastic about the idea of offshore wind power, with over 3,300 wind turbines in the North, Baltic, and Irish Seas. This fervor for wind production comes as a result of an EU plan to move to renewable energy sources across Europe. Government subsidies, incentives, and dramatically reduced production costs have catapulted offshore wind farms into popularity, and driven European countries to vault the technical hurdles associated with offshore wind farms.
It began with a small project off the coast of Denmark. Following objections from residents about building turbines on Danish farmland, the sea was proposed as a better solution. Since then, projects dwarfing Denmark’s 11-turbine wind farm have sprung up off the coast of Europe, with investors and governments becoming more inclined to adopt the technology as it becomes more efficient.
Though the US has been much slower to adopt this type of wind power, recent developments over the last few months seem to indicate that the country is becoming more willing to adopt offshore turbines.
The first is the Block Island Wind Farm, located off the coast of Rhode Island and powering around 17,000 homes. The project is a victory for Deepwater Wind, a Providence-based company eager to follow Europe’s example.
With a similar project in Massachusetts axed earlier on, Deepwater Wind faced political opposition when it came to constructing the Block Island Wind Farm. In some ways, the delays that came with negotiating offshore wind power in the US have would up being positive, with improvements in the technology reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
Plus, Deepwater Wind’s work in Rhode Island has opened up new doors for future projects elsewhere.
“I would say that next projects are going to be substantially bigger,” said Deepwater Wind’s chairman.
He was not exaggerating; as New York has recently approved the construction of 15 turbines with the intention of supplying power to southern Long Island; triple the size of the Block Island Wind Farm.
New York aims to be a pioneer in green energy innovation, with the stated goal of receiving half of their power from renewable sources by 2030. With a massive potential for wind power off the coasts of the United States, many are rushing to leverage offshore wind farms as a way to accomplish these goals.
For that matter, potential developers are focused on the northeast in general. The region, possessing dense coastal cities that require titanic amounts of power, is the perfect proving ground for offshore wind farms in North America.
Even so, the barriers to entry for renewable energy are much greater than nonrenewable sources, and issues such as storage and development space have hampered progress. These wind farms can be seen as a step in the right direction; an effective but imperfect indication of things to come.