United States

United States

US offshore risks falling further behind Europe

Offshore wind in the United States is an abundant domestic energy resource located close to major coastal load centres and areas plagued with transmission congestion.

The market has much advanced significantly in recent years, based on strong political support from some north-east and mid-Atlantic states.

This has resulted in a project pipeline exceeding 9GW and the commissioning of Deepwater Wind’s 30MW Block Island wind farm, off Rhode Island, in late 2016.

Despite this progress, the growing US offshore wind sector remains at risk of falling further behind European markets.

To accelerate the momentum needed for offshore wind to be successful in the United States, the country can gain from lessons learned in Europe.

The three main challenges are: availability of vessels, ports and transmission; increasing competition and innovation; and stable policy and planning cross the north-east.

The Jones Act, which requires ships operating in US waters to be owned by US companies and crewed by US citizens, is the largest barrier to accelerating growth.

While the market has proven unable to deliver US-built vessels so far, there are now sufficient firm offshore-wind procurement policies to enable the investment in vessels that comply with the law.

Whether the decision is to build Jones Act-compliant vessels or build fast feeder vessels that can be adapted for offshore wind projects, these investments need to be made quickly to keep power prices low, simplify logistics and manage development risks.

Jones Act-compliant vessels would allow the US to replicate logistics that have been optimised in Europe, learn from the continent’s experience and scale projects up faster, which is essential to decreasing the levelised cost of energy.

Competition in North Sea offshore-wind procurement is fierce, with a handful of experienced developers, manufacturers and installation firms pushing limits on turbine sizes, foundations and installations. Creating a strong framework for competitive tendering has been essential to the cost reductions and innovation in Europe.

Due to the limited number of offshore wind leases, the exclusive ownership rights of those leases, and the proximity of the leases to the states procuring offshore wind, only two or three developers are able to submit bids in any procurements.

The cost of offshore wind in the US would decrease faster if more leases were available, or if more developers were allowed to bid into a procurement from the same lease area.

The prices of offshore wind leases have risen exponentially, as their rarity grants developers access to lucrative procurements with a limited number of competitors.

European countries have been successful because of their long-term commitment to the offshore wind industry through stable, long-term procurement strategies.

To enable investment and build out the supply chain, the US would benefit from an integrated development vision over at least ten years, with better alignment of procurements across states.

Developing infrastructure

North Sea offshore-wind development was driven by a good cross-border sea-way infrastructure in the coastal regions, combined with local manufacturing of turbine components.

Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK have established ports that act as industrial hubs, providing turbine makers and their supply chain with the required logistics certainty and planning capacity.

The nascent US offshore regions do not benefit from similar port infrastructure, and individual states have justified offshore wind on local job creation, which is expected to encourage port infrastructure investments spread across multiple ports rather than targeting a few larger, more efficient ports with adapted infrastructure.

An integrated offshore transmission roadmap would optimise total interconnection costs in consideration of the procurement plans from all states, the lease locations, existing ransmission infrastructur and reinforcements.

The current generation of 6-8MW turbines will soon be replaced by 10-12MW turbines, with further size increases likely. Investments made in infrastructure should consider these expected size increases.

The regulations and standards are evolving in the US to meet market needs.

The IEC and DNV GL standards that have been the basis for offshore-wind development in Europe have a similar safety level and design approach to corresponding American Petroleum Institute standards, facilitating an easy adoption in the US.

The population in the states were offshore wind is progressing is largely concentrated on the shores. The permitting and stakeholder consultation process is still a high risk part of the process for the developers and the states, as building community buy-in is critical for the developers and the success of the procurements.

Marion Hill is head of the project development and engineering department at DNV GL Energy

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