California’s impending wind boom faces huge engineering hurdles

The team estimates that costs could drop from around $200 per megawatt-hour to between $58 and $120 by 2030. This will make floating offshore wind more expensive than solar and onshore wind, but it can still play an important role in the overall energy mix.

Technology is also advancing. The turbines themselves keep getting taller, generating more power and revenue from any given location. Several research groups and companies are also developing new types of floating platforms and delivery mechanisms that can more easily work within the constraints of ports and bridges.

Denmark-based company Stiesdal has developed a modular floating platform whose keel does not fall into place until deep sea, enabling it to be towed out of relatively shallow harbours.

Meanwhile, San Francisco startup Aikido Technologies is developing a way to transport turbines horizontally, then invert them in the deep ocean, allowing the structures to dodge bridges en route. The company believes its design gives developers enough permission to access any port in the United States. About 80% of these ports have height restrictions due to bridge or airport restrictions.

A number of federal, state, and local organizations are conducting evaluations of California and other U.S. ports to assess which might be best suited to service floating wind projects and what upgrades might be needed to make this happen.

Government policies in the US, EU, China, and elsewhere also encourage the development of offshore wind turbines, domestic manufacturing, and supporting infrastructure. That includes the Lower Inflation Act, which Biden signed into law this summer.

Finally, regarding California’s permitting challenges, Hochschild noted that the 2021 law requiring the state’s Energy Commission to set offshore wind targets also requires it to undertake the necessary long-term planning to achieve those targets. This includes developing a strategy to streamline the approval process.

For all the promises of Floating Wind, there is no doubt that ensuring it is cost-competitive and delivers on expectations will require significant investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, etc., and building large-scale projects at a pace that the country has not shown is capable of in the recent past .

However, if it can pull it off, California could become a leader in a critical new clean energy sector, using its rich coastal resources to meet its ambitious climate goals.

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