Aiming towards a goal of lowering offshore wind-power costs to $0.10/kWh by 2020, the US Department of Energy (DoE) finalised plans last month for a 50% cost-share programme to reward innovative demonstration projects.
The department is seeking a handful of small projects totalling around 50MW to be installed around the country by 2017, including one fast-tracked turbine to be operational by the end of 2014. Bids close on 31 May, with a selection process over the summer and awards expected in September.
With no offshore turbines currently in US waters, DoE is focusing on innovation and technological advances rather than subsidising the industry through feed-in tariffs. "We're trying to look at things a little differently," said Chris Hart, DoE offshore wind manager. "We believe supporting innovation will ultimately lead to a healthy, sustainable long-term offshore wind-energy industry in the US."
DoE expects submissions to go beyond turbine deployment and include ideas such as new methods of laying transmission cables and installing them into substations, along with maintenance strategies. "We're interested in innovative ways of addressing the high cost associated with offshore wind," Hart said. "So although we wouldn't fund the construction of vessels, we might fund the design of an individual vessel or other installation systems."
The agency also wants proposals for various water depths that include areas beyond the typical US offshore targets of the Atlantic seaboard, the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. "We could have viable applications from all regions of the country," Hart said. "That includes the West Coast and Hawaii."
Large developments are also eligible. "If you've got a commercial project and you're willing to allocate a few sites in your farm to research-and-development activity, then that's something we would be interested in as well," Hart said. "We want to install 50MW, so it's going to be fairly large - a substantial programme."
The request for bids is the second leg of an offshore initiative rolled out following President Barack Obama's State of the Union address in February 2011, when he announced a goal of sourcing 80% of US electricity from low-carbon sources by 2030. "We've allocated just under $130 million on that national offshore wind strategy up to now," Hart said.
Meanwhile, in a separate federal project, Spanish turbine manufacturer Gamesa has teamed up with DoE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in a three-year initiative to predict the behaviour and reliability of offshore wind equipment.
"It's not like you can drive your service truck to the base of offshore machines and hop out," said Fort Felker, director of NREL's National Wind Technology Center in Colorado. "So reliability and long service intervals become very important."