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Andrew Burger headshot

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.

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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