Archive for the ‘offshore wind’ Category

The wind industry has been getting a lot of love of late from the Obama administration.

The president spent Earth Day at an Iowa factory that makes wind turbine towers and announced new regulations for offshore wind farms. Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has been talking up the potential of offshore wind to generate as much as 20% of the eastern seaboard’s electricity that is now provided by coal-fired power plants.

But such scenarios won’t come to pass unless the administration seriously tackles the transmission grid problems that are keeping wind from becoming a nationwide source of green energy, according to panel of wind industry executives who spoke at Fortune Magazine’s Brainstorm Green panel this week.

“The real challenge is to connect wind farms in the Great Plains with the population centers of the Midwest,” said Bob Gates, senior vice president of commercial operations for Clipper Windpower. California-based Clipper is one of two U.S.-owned wind turbine makers (the other being General Electric (GE) ).

For instance, Clipper and BP (BP) have signed an agreement to build a 5,000-megawatt wind farm – the nation’s largest – in South Dakota. But the deal is more a dream at this stage because there are no power lines to transmit such massive amounts of electricity to Chicago and other Midwestern cities. (Gates said there is enough transmission available to begin construction this summer of a small 25-megawatt portion of the wind farm.)

The Obama administration has devoted billions of dollars in stimulus package funding to transmission projects and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last week approved incentives for a company planning to build a $12 billion “Green Power Express” transmission project to bring wind to Midwest metropolises.

Gates and the other panelists — Andris Cukurs, CEO of Indian turbine maker Suzlon’s North American operations; Don Furman, a transmission executive with Spanish wind developer Iberdrola Renewables, and James Walker, vice chairman of French-owned wind developer enXco – said the development of wind offshore from East Coast cities would ease transmission bottlenecks.

“Connecting offshore wind to cities is relatively cheap and easy compared to bringing wind power from the Dakotas to New York City,” Gates said. Another way to work around transmission gridlock would be to develop highly efficient small turbines that could be placed near cities and existing power lines, said Gates.

Despite Obama’s embrace of wind, the executives said they don’t see the industry resuming its record growth in 2008 – when U.S. wind capacity more than doubled – until 2010 or later. The credit crunch delayed or scuttled numerous wind farms and turbine orders have fallen dramatically.

One bright spot: Growing interest from well-capitalized utilities in directly investing in wind farms.

“Utility ownership is about 15% of the U.S. turbine fleet,” said Furman of Iberdrola Renewables. “I see more utility ownership in the coming years,, perhaps up to a third of the fleet.”

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Infighting among U.S. federal agencies over regulation of wind and wave energy development on the outer continental shelf ended Tuesday with an accord that gives the Department of the Interior oversight of offshore wind farms while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gets jurisdiction over wave and tidal projects.

While the deal brokered by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and acting FERC chairman Jon Wellinghoff will allow wind and wave projects to proceed, it’s still unclear what the impact will be on proposals to build combined offshore wind-and-wave farms.

As Green Wombat wrote earlier this month, a Seattle company called Grays Harbor Ocean Energy has filed applications with FERC to build such combo plants off several states. Among them, California, where the city of San Francisco is attempting to scuttle Grays’ proposed 100 megawatt project that would be located in a marine sanctuary in favor of its own 30 megawatt wave farm that would be built closer to shore.

Environmentalists, surfers and sailors also have objected to the Grays Harbor wave farm and the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service had challenged FERC’s right to approve combined wind-wave projects.

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Image: Principle Power

Portugal has become a prime spot for wave energy farms, given the coastal conditions and the government’s support for renewable energy projects. Now Portuguese energy powerhouse Energias de Portugal has signed an agreement with Seattle’s Principle Power for a deep-water floating wind farm.

It’s the second floating wind farm for Principle Power, which last October inked a contract to construct a 150-megawatt turbine power plant off the Oregon coast. The Oregon plan calls for 30 floating platforms that will each sport a five-megawatt wind turbine – which is about twice the size of the biggest land-based turbines in commercial operation. (General Electric (GE) makes a 3.6-megawatt turbine designed for offshore and Clipper Windpower is developing a ten-megawatt prototype.)

Details of the deal with Portugal’s EDP, however, are next to non-existent. Principle Power president Jon Bonanno told Green Wombat that the size of the Portuguese wind farm, the type of turbine it will use, its cost and build date are confidential. “What I can say is that the phased build out will result in a utility scale project, within a reasonable time frame for a plant of its size and nature,” Bonanno wrote in an e-mail.

The Seattle startup did reveal that the agreement with EDP calls for it to first deploy a single floating turbine platform, which it calls a WindFloat. “Innovative features of the WindFloat dampen wave and turbine induced motion, enabling wind turbines to be sited in previously inaccessible locations where water depth exceeds 50 meters and wind resources are superior,” Principle said in a statement.

If the WindFloat is successful, then a demonstration project will be built and a commercial wind farm will follow. Deep-water offshore wind farms pose a number of technological and economic challenges but the expected payoff is the production of  cheaper electricity from massive turbines that will be located far enough offshore to avoid the NIMBY problems that have plagued projects in the United States and elsewhere.

EDP became one of the world’s biggest wind farmers in 2007 when it acquired Horizon Wind Energy from Goldman Sachs for $2 billion.

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Illustration: Principle Power

A Seattle-based renewable energy startup, Principle Power, has signed an agreement to build a deep-sea, 150-megawatt wind farm to be constructed on floating platforms off the Oregon coast.

The deal with the Tillamook Intergovernmental Development Agency – which includes the local utility for a coastal county west of Portland – is very early stage but foreshadows two technological trends in the wind industry: massive megawatt turbines placed on deep-ocean platforms.

Principle Power co-founder Jon Bonanno tells Green Wombat that each floating platform – called a WindFloat – will feature a 5-megawatt turbine. By contrast, the biggest biggest land-based turbines are typically 2.5 megawatts, while General Electric (GE) makes a 3.6-megawatt turbine designed for offshore use.

Bigger turbines offer better economies of scale (important given the steep cost of developing offshore wind farms), and since a deep-ocean wind turbine is not visible from the coast, they avoid the not-in-my-backyard fights that dog near-shore projects. (Clipper Windpower of Carpinteria, Calif., is developing a ten-megawatt monster for England’s Crown Estate, while European wind companies like Enercon has been testing turbines in the six megawatt range.)

“It’s becoming an increasingly important component of the mix in Europe,” says Ethan Zindler, head of North American research for New Energy Finance, a London-based firm. “I think a lot of it is conceptual at this point. There’s still a lot of barriers in turbine design and transport.”

Beyond the technological challenges of supersizing a turbine, there’s the issue of how to get a 300-foot-tall windmill out to sea without breaking the bank. Various wind companies are tackling the problem but Principle Power’s solution is to license the WindFloat technology from a Berkeley, Calif.-based startup called Marine Innovation & Technology. The company’s founders, who previously worked on offshore platforms for the oil industry, designed the WindFloat to be semi-submersible. “The design and size of the WindFloat enables the overall structure to be assembled onshore and towed to its final location, significantly reducing construction costs,” according to Principle Power.

“The WindFloat has undergone concept development validation through numerical modeling, third party engineering verification and extensive wave tank testing,” Bonanno said in an e-mail, noting that he expects a full-scale prototype to be built within a year.

Depending on the permitting process and Principle’s ability to obtain project financing, Bonanno anticipates the wind farm to be up and operating between 2013 and 2015.  Early estimates peg the cost of the wind farm at about $375 million.

Pat Ashby, the general manager of the 19,000-customer Tillamook People’s Utility District, says his utility has a capacity of 50 megawatts so it would most likely serve as an interconnection point to transmit electricity from the wind farm to the regional power grid. “Our substations are all along the coast,” he says. “There’s only a dozen miles or less to get to a substation.”

According to Ashby, the cost of laying a transmission line is about $1 million a mile. On the other hand, if the wind farm is too close to shore, residents will likely get riled up about the impact on their views. “We’ve already had an organized group come forward to express their concerns,” he says.

Bonanno notes that if the wind farm was placed five miles off the coast, the turbines would appear to be the size of a thumb from the shore; at ten miles they would not be visible.

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