United States

United States

Grid study to set offshore agenda

UNITED STATES: America's offshore industry may not yet have taken off, but the newly unveiled National Offshore Wind Energy Grid Interconnection Study is designed to assess the best sites for offshore wind production, from the Great Lakes and Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean. Researchers will also probe how effectively potential offshore developments can be connected to the onshore grid.

The offshore sites will be pinpointed on the basis of factors such as wind resource and ocean depth; siting issues such as shipping lanes, fishing, military and environmentally sensitive areas; regulations, both nationally and in coastal states; the potential for interconnection to grids near the coast; and load centres.

The $900,000 study — led by Swiss-Swedish group ABB, the world's largest maker of transmission and distribution equipment — is funded by the US Department of Energy (DoE). But participants had hoped for two to three times as much funding, given the two-year study's technical breadth, its assessment of infrastructure and staging locations, and geographic reach.

The study is part of the roadmap for the Obama administration's goal of 54GW of offshore wind capacity in the US by 2030. The DoE's Offshore Wind Initiative, announced in February, will invest $43 million in 41 projects over the next five years. Construction of offshore wind projects has not yet started in the US, though, and it may well be another two years before any turbines are installed.

As part of the study, researchers from ABB and the University of Pittsburgh will look at different technologies for offshore generation, marine substation design and hardware, undersea cabling and installation technologies and interconnection. In August, ABB won a $1 billion order to supply a high-voltage direct-current power link connecting North Sea wind farms to Germany's mainland grid, noted Dennis McKinley, ABB's director of wind-power solutions for North America.

McKinley said the US grid has developed in a piecemeal way and if wind is to burgeon off the Atlantic coast, a major trunk line may have to be built along the eastern seaboard. Otherwise, interconnection points might have to be built for each regional grid, which may not be effective.

In the early stages of the study, US-based renewables consultancy AWS Truepower will simulate offshore wind-power output, which will help gauge, for example, where offshore wind projects will boost economic development, said Ken Pennock, AWS Truepower's forecasting and research business manager.

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