The report, Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States: Assessment of Opportunities and Barriers, estimates that US offshore wind has a gross potential generating capacity of 4 TW – four times greater than the US’ present electricity capacity.

However, this assumes that one 5 MW wind turbine is placed on every square kilometer of water with an annual average wind speed of around 7 m/s. If taking environmental and socioeconomic constraints into account, the gross resource value is likely to shrink 60%.

Developing offshore wind along US coasts and at the Great Lakes could:

  • Achieve 20% electricity from wind by 2030. In NREL’s least-cost optimization model, 54 GW of added wind capacity could come from offshore wind; and
  • Revitalize manufacturing. Building 54 GW of offshore wind could generate around US$200 billion in new economic activity and create more than 43,000 permanent jobs – representing around 20 jobs per MW.

There are currently no US offshore wind farms up and running, but around 20 projects representing more than 2 GW of capacity are in planning and permitting phases.

Challenges

Challenges facing offshore wind in the USA include costs – for technology and the needed infrastructure. NREL says: “In general, capital costs are twice as high as land-based [wind power], but this may be partially offset by potentially higher yields – as much as 30% of more.”

Operation and maintenance costs offshore are also prohibitive.

Despite challenges, NREL’s Regional Energy Deployment System (ReEDS) model shows the possibility of “offshore wind penetration of between 54 GW and 89 GW by 2030 when economic scenarios favoring offshore wind are applied.”

Offshore Wind Has Great Potential

Despite the barriers and challenges, NREL concludes that “in the context of the greater energy, environmental, and economic concerns the nation faces, accelerating the deployment of offshore wind could have tremendous benefits to the United States.”

Furthermore: “Removing deployment barriers can help support the first projects in the competitive energy supply market, with the objective of reducing long-term uncertainties. In the short-term, reducing risk will stimulate economic growth, accelerate permitting time frames, and help address important aspects of climate change mitigation.”

The report concludes that “with effective research, policies, and commitment, it [offshore wind] can play a significant and vital role in future US energy markets.”