Wind of change: offshore renewables in america
Electricity production in the United States still relies heavily on non-renewable energy sources. Fossil fuels and nuclear power generate more than 80% of the country’s total energy needs. Renewable energy sources do contribute to the US market, but at rates hovering just above the 17% mark. It must be noted that this relatively low figure masks the enormous potential of renewable energy in America. Considering the fact that there is currently only one offshore wind farm in operation in US waters (the 30 megawatts Block Island off the Rhode Island coast), offshore wind is a perfect example for such growth.
With their attention on the exciting future of the American offshore wind industry, Damen director business development & market intelligence David Stibbe and area manager North America Daan Dijxhoorn answer some of the most important questions.
What are the most important drivers of the offshore wind sector in the USA?
Daan: Wind, of course, is the key driver. To this end, the East Coast of the United States is a prime location for the development of offshore wind farms. Average wind speeds are the most relevant: from North Carolina all the way up to Newfoundland, winds speeds increase the further north you go. Furthermore, the northern states of the Eastern Coast – Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut – are also among the most densely populated and require a large amount of energy. In terms of energy production and supply, therefore, offshore wind has great potential.
David: It is also politically driven. Most of the north-eastern states are Democratic and have clear green strategies. Most notably, however, we have seen no slow-down since Trump has been in office as the White House has limited influence on the developments in the offshore wind industry.
How do you see the American offshore wind sector developing?
David: It is a market that is showing slow but steady growth. What is relevant here is that the American market can look at advances in the European market and supply chain. This means that the American offshore wind market will not have to undergo the steep learning curve that we experienced in Europe. They will have the advantage of multiple lessons learned. The issue of local content is a point that cannot be ignored, though – all vessels will need to be built locally.
Yes, the Jones Act – what impact will that have?
David: The Jones Act will be one of the first things developers have to deal with. A crucial fact, however, is that there are no existing vessels that match the requirements. Therefore the diverse range of vessels needed for the numerous phases of an offshore wind farm all have to be built. This situation is complicated even further because every state also has their own local content policy on top of the Jones Act. These local content regulations stipulate the use of local vessel operators and local shipyards as vessel builders.
Daan: Damen has embraced the Jones Act by forming cooperative relationships with local yards that have the capacity to build Damen designs. In fact, our procedures for building vessels in local yards – Damen Technical Cooperation – and our extensive experience in working with American yards is our unique selling point. We know how to deal with, and we have the flexibility to comply with, these local content regulations. This gives offshore wind developers wanting to use the same vessel designs that have proved themselves in the European market a lot of chances.
What vessels can Damen offer the American offshore wind industry?
David: For all the types of vessel required – for construction, crew transfer, cable-lay, operations and maintenance tasks – the Damen portfolio has proven solutions.
Daan: It is also important to emphasise that we are adjusting our designs to meet the American regulations of ABS and the US Coast Guard. Listening to specific regulations such as the Right Whales Act in the north-eastern region is also key for our approach. Furthermore we are introducing our European clients to the US market. This can be seen as ‘matchmaking’ key stakeholders from Europe such as operators like Orsted and suppliers such as Vestas and Siemens to local operators.
Offshore wind: an industry built on European foundations
It is fair to say that the offshore wind industry has its roots firmly planted in Europe. The UK, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands hold the top four positions with respect to installed generation capacity in the world. For example, there are currently more than 4,300 offshore wind turbines with a combined capacity of 16 gigawatts installed in European waters. The last five years, in particular, have seen a massive increase in installation and commissioning of new wind farms. The most important trends experienced in the industry are that offshore wind farms are getting bigger (in terms of number of turbines) and farther out to sea in deeper and rougher waters.
Additionally, the turbines themselves are increasing in power generation capacity. Ten years ago the typical capacity for an offshore wind turbine was 3 megawatts. At the time of writing, 8.25 megawatt turbines are currently in use at the UK’s Walney Extension wind farm.
In the future, it is expected that turbine manufacturer MHI Vestas will have its 10 megawatt (the world’s first double digit offshore wind turbine) ready for installation in 2021.
Explainer: the Jones Act
Otherwise known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act is a United States federal statute that serves to promote and maintain the American merchant navy. It states that all goods transported by water between United States ports must be carried on US flagged vessels that have been constructed in the US, and owned and crewed by US citizens.