December 12, 2011

EU invades US for energy resource – offshore wind

By Susan Kraemer 

Not content with dominating the European off-shore renewable energy industry, European juggernauts of offshore wind have landed on the shores of Maine where they want to see if the US is good at making off-shore wind power too.

Norway’s Statoil, maker of the Hywind floating wind turbine in Europe (last year’s story: Oil Company Begins Wind Test of Off-Shore) is heading to the coast of Maine for a test of its Hywind floating turbine on these shores. Europe makes 99% of the offshore wind power in the world and is on track to build 141 GW more!!! over the next two decades. But Europe only has so much coastal water near population centers, suitable for off-shore wind. The USA however is… um, surrounded.

So while the US has busied itself digging up third world dictatorships for the energy to be gotten from under them, ton by laborious ton, Europe has moved on. Now it’s coming after a more permanent energy resource, in one of its former colonies.

Each floating Hywind unit from Statoil has a 2.3MW turbine on it made by Germany’s Siemens, the company that pretty much has a lock on offshore wind turbine production. The floating structure is a steel floater filled with ballast and it extends 100 m down (about 300 feet)  beneath the surface and is fastened to the seabed by three anchor wires.

The application is in response to a September 2010 request by the very progressive Maine Public Utilities Commission (MPUC) for proposals for deepwater offshore wind or tidal energy pilot demonstration projects. Maine was one of the first states to set a renewable energy standard and as a result is now blessed with a 55% renewable electricity supply  - if you count hydro, which supplies about 30% of that total – however it is also highly dependent on oil for heating.

We have covered Maine’s test of substituting stored wind power for heating oil (Maine Residents Get $6000 to Store Wind as Slow Heating) using Steffes thermal energy storage units in homes. Islands off Maine provide more than 100% of its needs from wind at times. Previous story: Incentives for Thermal Energy Storage for Night. These projects are the result of Maine’s excellent coastal offshore wind potential.

The University of Maine’s public/private partnership at its  Advanced Structures and Composites Center would like to see Maine generate 5GW of power by 2030 with floating turbines, and given Maine’s very progressive energy policy history: that is a pretty good chance. The DeepCWind Consortium at the U of Maine includes universities, nonprofits, and utilities, plus companies that specialise in marine construction, design and structures, composite materials to assist in corrosion-resistant material design and selection, and environmental law and analysis.

However, Statoil is also considering Scotland for the test. It’s up to the reorganized Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which was broken out by this administration from the previous agency (the famously corrupt one that held cocaine parties with offshore oil driller applicants!) and then it will be up to FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) which fortunately has also changed leadership under this administration and is now run by the highly progressive Jon Wellinghoff, who gets it on renewables: see my Equal Pay for Negawatts and Megawatts Thanks to FERC.

But in the past, FERC has really dragged its feet on ocean energy development.

Which is why we don’t have any offshore wind industry and Europe does. But perhaps progressive Maine energy policy and the revamped BOEM and FERC can break through that now, with the help of Statoil the world leader in offshore wind development. Let’s hope so.


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