Evolution of the global offshore wind market

Steven Kopits, energy business analyst at Douglas-Westwood, brought conference attendees up to speed on efforts to develop offshore wind farms; U.S. lags European efforts.

Steven Kopits, energy business analyst at Douglas-Westwood (New York, N.Y.), brought conference attendees up to speed on efforts to develop offshore wind farms. The real start of commercial development of offshore wind began in 2001 and at first was dominated by Denmark. Now, says Kopits, the United Kingdom is leading efforts to develop offshore wind. For the 2009-2013 time period, Kopits said to look for 6.6 GW of offshore wind installed worth about $26 billion and comprosing 4,000-5,000 wind blades.

Europe offshore wind is most evolved, with 1.5 GW currently installed; 334 MW was installed in 2008 and 1.2 GW is under construction right now. Europe is conducive to offshore turbines because coastal waters are relatively shallow, major energy consumers are nearby and governments are well organized to encourage development. The United States, said Kopits, is lagging European offshore efforts, but has attractive waters in the Great Lakes and off the New England coast. West Coast waters, he said, are too deep for wind turbines.

One of offshore wind's biggest hurdles right now is cost. Kopits reported that offshore wind costs $5 million per nameplate megawatt, $3 million of which is subsidized. By contast, noted Kopits, 600 MW of offshore wind ($2 billion in subsidies) is the equivalent of one gas-fired power plant. Further, capital expenditure and operations and maintenance for offshore wind typically costs about twice that for onshore wind systems. As a result, Kopits said to look for lareger turbines with longer blades in offshore systems, with carbon fiber playing a critical role in meeting strength and stiffness requirements.

For the 2013-2017 timeframe, Kopits said to look for seven to eight offshore wind farms being developed in North America, each 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 km) offshore in water 100 to 150 ft (30 to 46m) deep. These projects will consume about 1,000 turbines a year for four years, with each turbine rated at about 4 to 5 MW. Following this flury, Kopits said to expect 100 to 200 turbines per year for offshore projects.