Google donates billions for U.S. offshore wind energy transmission upgrades

Google reportedly will give $5 billion to the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) backbone, which will stretch 350 miles off the coast from New Jersey to Virginia and will connect users with 6,000 MW of offshore wind turbines.

Google announced on Oct. 12 an agreement to invest in the development of a backbone transmission project off the U.S. Mid-Atlantic coast to increase the reliability of the region's existing power grid. Google did not report the amount of the investment, but The New York Times reported the figure to be $5 billiion.

When built out, the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC) backbone will stretch 350 miles off the coast from New Jersey to Virginia and will be able to connect 6,000 MW of offshore wind turbines. The company says that's equivalent to 60 percent of the wind energy that was installed in the entire country last year and enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households.

The AWC backbone will be built around offshore power hubs that will collect the power from multiple offshore wind farms and deliver it efficiently via sub-sea cables to the strongest, highest capacity parts of the land-based transmission system. This system will act as a superhighway for clean energy. By putting strong, secure transmission in place, the project removes a major barrier to scaling up offshore wind, an industry that despite its potential, only had its first federal lease signed last week and still has no operating projects in the U.S.

Google says many coastal areas in the U.S. have large population centers on an overstretched grid with limited access to a high-quality, land-based wind resource. These coastal states can take advantage of their most promising renewable resource by using larger wind farms with larger turbines that can take advantage of stronger and steadier winds offshore.

The Mid-Atlantic region is well suited for offshore wind. It offers more than 60,000 MW of offshore wind potential in relatively shallow waters that extend miles out to sea. These shallow waters, says the company, make it easier to install turbines 10 to 15 miles offshore, meaning wind projects can take advantage of stronger winds and are virtually out-of-sight from land. With few other renewable energy options ideally suited for the Atlantic coast, the AWC backbone helps states meet their renewable energy goals and standards (PDF) by enabling a local offshore wind industry to deploy thousands of megawatts of clean, cost-effective wind energy.

The AWC backbone is critical to more rapidly scaling up offshore wind because without it, offshore wind developers would be forced to build individual radial transmission lines from each offshore wind project to the shore, requiring additional time consuming permitting and environmental studies and making balancing the grid more difficult.

The AWC project is led by independent transmission company Trans-Elect and is financed by Google, Good Energies and Marubeni Corp. Google is investing 37.5 percent of the equity in this initial development stage, with the goal of obtaining all the necessary approvals to finance and begin constructing the line. Although the development stage requires only a small part of the total estimated project budget, it represents a critical stage for the project.