Atlantic Offshore Wind Turbines Can Power the Entire East Coast

Offshore winds off the U.S. Atlantic coast could yield enough clean, renewable electrical power for at least one-third of the entire U.S., or the entire East Coast, from Maine to Florida, according to a Stanford University study released Sept. 14. That includes some of the country’s largest urban centers, as well as the nation’s capital.

The Stanford research team employed a state-of-the-art offshore wind power model to simulate the installation of 144,000 5-megawatt wind turbines of the type typically found in European offshore wind farms at various ocean depths and distances from shore from Florida to Maine, concentrating them in the typically hurricane-free stretch of the Atlantic between Maine and Virginia, according to a Stanford University News report.

Now’s the time for U.S. offshore wind power development

They found that offshore winds off the U.S. East Coast produce between 965-1,372-terawatt-hours of electricity per year, enough to meet 1/3 of U.S. electricity demand, or all the power needs of the entire East Coast, from Maine to Florida. The study, “U.S. East Coast Offshore Wind Energy Resources and Their Relationship to Peak-Time Electricity Demand,” is available here.

In addition to adding significantly to the U.S. East Coast offshore wind power potential, the researchers found that East Coast offshore wind energy peaks in the middle of the day. That coincides exactly with peak power demands.

“We knew there was a lot of wind out there, but this is the first actual quantification of the total resource and the time of day that the resource peaks,” commented Stanford University professor of civil and environmental engineeering Mark Z. Jacobson, who directed the research project. “This provides practical information to wind farm developers about the best areas to place turbines.”

Added research team member and recent Atmosphere/Energy PhD program graduate Mike Dvorak, “People mistakenly think that wind energy is not useful because output from most land-based turbines peaks in the late evening/early morning, when electricity demand is low. “The real value of offshore wind energy is that it often peaks when we need the most electricity – during the middle of the day.”

Moreover, installing even this great a number of wind turbines off the U.S. East Coast needn’t compromise ocean vistas or threaten wildlife, according to the research team. In their analysis, the researchers limited installations to just one-third of available shallow-water sites out to 30 meters depth, with two-thirds of the remaining sites out to 200 meters depth.

Their analysis highlights the real possibility and multiple benefits that could be realized by developing very large-scale offshore wind farms in Atlantic waters near major East Coast cities, such as Boston and New York City. “Connecting the power to the grid would be technically as easy as laying a cable in the sand and hooking it directly into the grid without the need to build often controversial transmission lines on the land,” Dvorak said.

Meeting Peak Power Demand
Besides yielding a huge reduction in U.S. carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, developing a battery of East Coast offshore wind farms would provide a big boost to the U.S. economy, generate a very substantial number of good green jobs and help U.S. commerce and industry innovate and compete in the fast-growing global wind and renewable energy markets.

“But the real advantage of wind versus natural gas or coal is that, even though there’s a higher cost now for offshore wind, it results in price stability,” Jacobson said. “There are zero fuel costs once they’re in the water. Coal and gas are depletable resources, so their cost will inevitably go up over time. The cost of wind energy will remain stable, and the wind resource is infinite.”

Not one offshore wind power project is “in the water.” Strident political opposition, along with bureaucratic, grid interconnection and technical hurdles continues to hinder offshore wind project development in the US even as European nations, facing similar obstacles, continue to forge ahead.

That’s despite the offshore wind energy generation potential of more than 1,300-gigawatts (GW). Harnessing “a realistic fraction” of just 52-GW “could power 14 million homes with clean electrons while creating over 300,000 new jobs and $200 billion” in economic activity in some of the nation’s largest cities.

The first proposal to develop an offshore wind farm in the U.S. — the Cape Wind Project in Nantucket Sound — was filed in 2001. More than a decade later, installation has yet to even begin, though Cape Wind in April announced that it had selected a joint venture team that is to carry out construction.

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

18 responses

  1. If you are going to put these up, offshore would be better than onshore.
    The hypothetical proposal would would optimistically cost in the neighborhood of $1.5 Trillion and take up about 14,500 sq mi (roughly a swath from Maine to Va 20 miles wide).
    I wonder what the lifespan of those turbines would be in the corrosive marine environment? I know everything corrodes quickeralong the coast.
    I think there are better, higher density energy solutions in the mid term future.

      1. Short term: Nat gas to replace coal. Can be done in short time frame on same site with access to power grid. 1/2 CO2 if you care about that.
        Mid term: Liquid thorium nuclear. Cheaper, safer, less radioactive, less waste. Virtually no CO2, also small footprint easily tied to existing power grids.
        Long term: NiH LENR:Potentially limitless supply of clean energy. High density energy in all these options to maximize reliable, consistent power without disruption to existing market.

        1. someone else…no free lunch for anyone, even Ann, you should know that…we’re already paying more and more for unrestrained fossil fuel and nuclear use, though not at the pump or electric bills, but thru socialized costs of environmental degradation, pollution, health problems, climate change problems, wars, military expenditures, etc.

        2. That was my point exactly. There is no free lunch, but there are real world impacts of your proposals as well. Wind is not the clean, green source of energy you think it is. We are just outsourcing the pollution to China. Wind farms use 1000x more concrete & steel than a conventional power plant, more heavy metals, involves more mining, processing, & smelting, has a greater environmental impact on the wildlife in a much larger footprint.
          Don’t get me wrong, I am all for energy efficiency. I am an architect & energy consultant. Most of my work is going LEED gold or even net zero energy use, I have work with utilities on large scale energy audit plans, helping large scale institutional customers reduce energy usage at no net cost. I live small, bike to work, try to grow as much food as I can. I try to do as much as I can, but I don’t expect a perfect world.
          In spite of the problems & pollution, I think we owe a debt of gratitude that reliable, affordable energy has provided to our freedom and advanced lifestyle.

        3. Wind farms use more polluting raw materials than a coal or nuclear plant??!! 1000x more…A larger carbon and envtl footprint! from where are you getting these figures? The API??? Local, distributed clean energy sources and reducing consumption all along the consumer chain are the ways forward…

        4. Read what I wrote, not the straw man you want to hear. I said 1000x more concrete & steel, not ‘polluting raw materials. ‘I didn’t say a larger carbon footprint, I said a greater environmental impact on the wildlife in a much larger (physical) footprint.
          Any time you and your like minded friends want develop those clean sources of energy you want, no one is going to stop you.

        5. I say again please cite where you get 1000x more concrete and steel, which of course do result in pollution…as well as a much larger physical footprint with great evntl impact!!! Come on, from where do you come up with this? And all this is going on, and at a greater pace than ever, thankfully, though of course no thanks to you and like-minded “friends” l…

        6. I know my calculator can stick, but I didn’t just make these up.
          According to Forbes: “a MW of installed capacity (remember that wind produces an average of 10 – 25% of installed capacity) for wind requires 460 metric tons of steel and 870 m3 of concrete compared to the 98 metric tons of steel and 160 m3 of concrete for coal, and the even lower 40 metric tons of steel and 90 m3 of concrete for nuclear. Natural gas is the lowest of all, requiring a little over 3 metric tons of steel and 27 m3 of concrete per MW, the reason gas plants are the cheapest and easiest to build.”
          When you factor in the useable capacity of wind, not the installed capacity, the fact that you will still need the gas plant to run to provide even power supply, not to mention the thousands of miles of power lines, you end up having wind use 1000x the amount of steel & 200x the concrete.
          The physical footprint is obvious. It’s about 50 acres/MW (about 50x that of an equivalent gas plant. And if you don’t believe there is an environmental impact, try living within 10 miles of one. Read what the impact to birds & bats are, or the flicker effect, or the low frequency hum.
          I’m not saying wind turbines are inherently evil, I’m saying we need to look at all the consequences (positive & negative) to all forms of energy.
          And when you refer to me and my like minded friends, do you mean the ones who are actually doing things to improve the built environment and living according to my beliefs?
          Who appointed you as the environmental czar?
          I’ve found that it is the people who talk the loudest that do the least.
          If you feel strongly about your energy solutions, design a new product, or get your like minded friends together, buy the land necessary to put up your wind plant, get your permits, sell your power and actually do something constructive (other than telling others what they must do and verbally berate them if they don’t agree).
          I am working daily to reduce energy use in the built environment through voluntary means (see post above), through creative and award winning passive energy design, the use of solar PV, grey water recycling, and water desalinization, but I don’t demand others live under my rules.

  2. Silly science. One need look no further than the headline and the accompanying photo to see the first of many fallacies here: the photo is becalmed. No wind. So how do those turbines power the whole east coast when they only produce 30% of the time? Just because a tricycle and a 747 are both transportation modes does not make them interchangeable implements. Try taking 400 passengers off the 747 and telling them to pedal 400 trikes to Paris. It’s the green way to go.

    1. What do 747s have to do with wind turbines and the electrical grid? Europe’s already harnessing offshore winds to transition off fossil fuels to the betterment of economy, society and env’t…We need to do the same…

    2. Anything to divert the argument. No one says wind alone can power the east coast. It requires a balanced portfolio. Wind, solar, nat gas, nuclear all in balance, gives us a stable grid 7/24. The FACT that almost 40% of the time we COULD have wind provide free fueled power should be a great argument to go capture some of that green free fuel. I have to agree with Andrew….silly rabbit.

      1. I believe the headline says “Atlantic Offshore Wind Turbines Can Power the Entire East Coast”, so evidently Andy does.
        When you say that 40% of the time we could have wind provide free power, the operative word is ‘could’. What experience are you basing that on? Do you work for a utility? Which 40% of the time? Wind does not operate at 40% of rated capacity. Do you understand how a utility grid works? Supply and demand MUST be balanced or all hell breaks loose. Look at what is happening in India. Power must be reliable, consistent, predictable and adjustable. Wind is none of those. Wind is like a great employee who works on average between 3-12 hours a week, gets paid twice as much as your most reliable employee, but he never tells you when he’s going to show up, when he’s going to take a break, or when he’s going to leave. Sure, you can have a few people like that, but I sure would not want to staff my business with them.
        And when you say free, that’s kind of like saying that my car is free because I paid for it up front. You are paying for the entire cost of wind up front and count on getting paid back in energy for the next 25 years.
        That’s not diverting from the argument, that is dealing with it logically and sensibly.

        1. it’s a simple statement…the energy is there evidently…the challenge is how much and how well we can make use of it…

    3. It’s a photograph, not a video. How can you even tell those blades aren’t rotating? Do you need gray clouds and choppy waves in the photo to drive the point home? . . . or Photoshopped lines in the image 50 feet above sea level to emphasize air movement that might not have been showing up on surface water when the shutter was snapped? The photographer could have also chosen a longer exposure time and gotten some nice blurring on those blades. You can emphasize so many different effects with a camera with judicious manipulation of the controls. Silly science, don’t you know?

      Also . . . projections contained in any study – backed up by hundreds of years of empirical data – of large offshore wind projects factor that it’s not always going to be equally windy along the entire Atlantic coastline at any given point in time. Where did this “only 30%” figure come from? While it could be calm offshore of, say, New Jersey, it invariably going to be simultaneously breezy along vast stretches of coastline to the north and south of there. The oceans rarely keep the air above them still for very long. The entire wind generating system would be grid tied and designed to compensate accordingly.

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