USA: What Will It Take To Unlock U.S. Floating Offshore Wind Energy?
September 26, 2023 - ForeignAffairs.co.nz
Source: US National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Study Evaluates Port and Supply Chain Needs To Deploy Floating Wind Farms on West Coast
A massive 2.8 terawatts of U.S. offshore wind energy potential—enough to power 350 million homes—blows over ocean waters too deep for wind turbines to be fixed to the sea floor with foundations. The solution to capturing this valuable energy resource? Offshore wind turbines that float on the water and anchor to the seabed with mooring lines.
As the first West Coast commercial-scale projects aim to be built around 2030, the United States will have to develop ports able to deploy commercial-scale floating offshore wind energy development.
A National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) study, recently published in a report titled, The Impacts of Developing a Port Network for Floating Offshore Wind Energy on the West Coast of the United States, focuses on what it will take to develop a system of ports.
Spoiler alert: It will take time, and it will be a big investment. But it will be worth it.
“Our research shows that it could take an investment of around $5 billion to $10 billion to develop the installation and maintenance ports needed to build and operate 25–55 gigawatts of floating offshore wind on the West Coast and at least another $10 billion to build manufacturing ports to support a local supply chain,” said Matt Shields, an NREL offshore wind energy analyst who led the study.
“But this investment could result in the United States deploying thousands of megawatts of offshore wind energy in an efficient, cost-effective, equitable, and sustainable manner,” he continued. “If we don’t make these investments, then this huge opportunity is at risk of not developing at all.”
In addition to supplying clean energy to millions of coastal businesses and households, a West Coast floating wind energy supply chain could also provide thousands of jobs for local communities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by lowering transport distances, and lower the risk of relying on overseas materials.
Behind the Study
This study is one of the outcomes of the U.S. Department of Energy’s focus on developing floating wind energy in the United States in support of its Floating Offshore Wind Shot.
The team behind the study included experts from NREL and global infrastructure advisory firm Moffat & Nichol; the U.S. Department of Energy Wind Energy Technologies Office, which funded the project through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law; and a stakeholder advisory committee comprising 81 members from 49 organizations (including developers, technology providers, ports and shipyards, federal/state/local agencies, advocacy groups, labor unions, trade organizations, and certification bodies).
Using diverse perspectives, feedback, and input from the committee as well as complementary reports, the study’s researchers analyzed the costs and benefits of port strategies. In the resulting report, the team:
Describes the requirements for floating offshore wind energy ports that conduct manufacturing, installation, and/or service activities
Estimates the number of ports and time frames required to construct these ports at suitable locations in West Coast states
Calculates the required investment to support different phases of floating offshore wind projects, including manufacturing, installation, and operation
Considers how these costs could be affected by local or foreign supply chains
Models how the proximity of an offshore wind power project to installation and operations ports can impact the levelized cost of energy of the project
Offers scenarios with increasing levels of floating offshore wind energy deployment and port assets on the West Coast to show how these ports could enable deployment goals to be achieved
Assesses the potential risks and benefits associated with port development on local communities, the environment, workforce development, the offshore wind energy industry, and the West Coast region as a whole.
Five Focus Areas
“The challenges related to building a port infrastructure that can support commercial-scale floating offshore wind energy deployment are formidable,” Shields said. “But the effort also represents a big opportunity for the West Coast to emerge as a global leader in the new floating offshore wind energy industry.”
Developing one staging and integration port site for offshore wind project installation could require an investment of $1 billion or more and take around 10 years.
The study identifies the following five primary areas of focus to develop a West Coast ports network, which suggest that the country will need to:
Update the existing West Coast port infrastructure to manufacture technology components domestically, install projects efficiently, and contribute effectively to clean energy goals on a commercial scale.
Encourage collaboration and communication among a huge number of stakeholders, along with an authorized decision-making entity (or entities) for strategic planning.
Build a significant workforce to construct and operate West Coast floating wind ports and attract workers in likely port-development regions.
Provide transparency and certainty around permitting and regulatory requirements for ports so they are less unpredictable and time-consuming, easing the approval process and helping with strategic planning.
Grow a vessel fleet to install and service offshore wind power projects in parallel with the port network after developing requirements for U.S. shipbuilding capacity.
How a Ports Network Can Help
The report provides decision makers with essential information to consider when developing a West Coast ports network. The study considers the number of required port sites, which are locations within a port and include a waterfront area for assembling a floating wind turbine and available area on land for staging or building components. The benefits of this network include moving closer to clean energy goals, more domestic manufacturing, and regional job growth.
Closer to Clean Energy Goals
Meeting California’s 25-gigawatt (GW) offshore wind energy target by 2045 would likely require four installation port sites (at two or three ports) and at least eight operations and maintenance port sites within the state, which could cost around $5 billion to develop.
An offshore wind scenario of 55 GW deployed along the West Coast by 2045 could require nine installation port sites (at four or five ports) and 17 operations and maintenance port sites in California, Oregon, and Washington, with an associated investment of around $11 billion.
More Domestic Manufacturing
Expanding the port network to create a West Coast supply chain could require 16–28 additional port sites to support 25–55 GW of deployment, respectively. These manufacturing port sites would likely need an additional $11 billion–$19 billion to construct.
It is unlikely that any one West Coast state would have sufficient port capacity to support all of these manufacturing sites. As a result, collaboration among California, Oregon, and Washington is likely needed to develop a supply chain that can build on a range of suitable ports, reduce the risk of global supply chain bottlenecks, and create local jobs and economic benefits.
A West Coast supply chain could reduce by about 40% the lifetime vessel emissions for the overall project pipeline by eliminating the need to transport major components across the Pacific Ocean.
Although labor and raw material costs may be cheaper for overseas manufacturing hubs, a supply chain based on the West Coast could be cost competitive because of reduced transportation costs and tax incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act (if manufacturing facilities are built in time to qualify for these incentives).
Regional Job Growth
Although communities impacted by port development may face diverse health, environmental, educational, economic, and accessibility circumstances, they will benefit from new or expanded ports and job opportunities.
“I think one of the most positive takeaways of this report is the opportunity for all the West Coast states to collaborate in this big supply-chain opportunity that will lead to jobs and other benefits,” Shields said.
What Is Next
The study findings are consistent with those of a regional study soon to be released by the California Energy Commission, Shields said.
While the need to implement strategic plans to meet state and federal deployment targets is urgent, further work will be required to develop these approaches, conduct detailed design studies, and convene key stakeholders and decision makers.
“By strategically and collaboratively establishing a clear vision for enabling port infrastructure, the West Coast floating offshore wind energy sector has the opportunity to set itself up for long-term success,” Shields said.
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