Wind turbines can generate clean, renewable electricity
As the world watches the devastating environmental effects of oil spills, the global population is continuously reminded of the negative effects that energy development can take on our oceans. At the time of the BP disaster, for example, nearly 3,500 oil rigs and platforms were operating in U.S. waters. But in a interesting twist of irony, at the same time of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, there were over 1,000 wind turbines generating clean, renewable electricity off the coastlines of northwestern Europe. But not a single windmill yet turns in the strong, abundant winds that overflow the shores of the United States.
Clearly, wind power cannot immediately replace the energy we must generate from the oil and gas produced on the outer continental shelf. And it is apparent that America’s unwillingness to clear the way for permitting a proven, commercially scalable, clean source of energy is a major black eye for a nation that wants to be a leader in technological development.
America’s dependence on electricity increasing
American electricity dependence is becoming further obvious now that global warming has taken a more front-and-center stage in the media. And the fact is that many electrical energy generation plants use coal to produce needed electricity. America is dependent on electricity to light homes, power appliances like refrigerators, stoves, washers, dryers, dishwashers, and even heater to keep homes warm. Electricity has made modern living possible, and added convenience to our daily lives. Without electricity, none of this would be possible, and the country would be thrown back to the eighteen hundreds again. It is not possible to end this dependence without conserving electricity as well as rigorously developing renewable alternative energy sources, such as wind farms.
The Internet’s dependence on electricity
The world wide web (W3) is a vast frontier for those within whom the web-preneurial spirit burns brightly. So in our previous blog entry, we discussed the Internet’s dependence on electricity. The world wide web runs on electricity, though we don’t usually think about it. But the fact is, without electricity you wouldn’t be reading this. Fortunately, however, the Internet and the web hosting industry are moving toward a more sustainable existence due to the data center industry facing growing pressure to integrate renewable energy sources, such as wind energy, into data center projects. Any initiative to drive increased resources to build offshore wind farms will require tolerance and acceptance from stakeholders and growing pressure from businesses as well as groups with enormous political weight.
Land-based wind farms
Texas holds the distinction of being home to the two largest wind farms in the word. And the capital of the great state of Texas is Austin – the greenest city in the entire world – which is home to Green Host It, a green web hosting provider that offers carbon neutral web hosting powered by wind energy.
The United States is behind in offshore wind development.
Although the United States is a leader in land-based wind farms, it is dramatically lagging behind in development of offshore wind farms. Denmark constructed the first offshore wind facility in 1991. In the intervening two decades, ten other countries installed offshore wind farms—eight nations in northern Europe, plus Japan and China.
Unfortunately, in the United States, lack of a clear regulatory structure, inconsistent messages from other ocean stakeholders, congressional budget battles, opposition to specific project sitting, and instability in financial markets have all played a role in preventing domestic offshore wind from becoming a reality.
Offshore wind farms – benefits:
- Better wind resources
- Reduced turbulence – steadier wind
- Higher mean wind speed
- Aesthetics – Visual concerns will be less objectionable at greater distance (although at GHI, we think that wind turbines are attractive)
- Increased transmission options
- Proximity to high value load centers
- Access to less heavily loaded lines
- Avoid constraints on turbine size
- Larger machines may be more economical.
- Shipping – onshore roadway limits
- Erection – onshore crane limits
Offshore wind farms – the current situation:
- 600+ MW total installed capacity offshore in Europe
- Denmark, Germany and the UK have the most development of offshore wind energy currently in existence
- US planned projects:
- Cape Cod, MA
- Long Island, NY
Obstacles to development of offshore wind in the U.S.:
- Offshore labor and equipment costs
- Lengthy permitting process
- Lack of clear regulatory structure
Overcoming the challenges to offshore wind farms
The challenges offshore wind farms face are not insurmountable. Supporters of wind energy say it can help meet the nation’s energy needs while reducing dependence on foreign oil and polluting fossil fuels, but even the strongest advocates claim it will not come cheaply anytime soon. In fact, many advocates say that wind energy can lead to increased costs for electricity. There are at least three points cheap power advocates overlook when they assume that offshore wind will increase electricity rates:
- government can share in investments to lower the costs of power
- costs will improve as more projects get built
- wind power plays a unique role in electric systems that causes overall power prices to decline.
Near term offshore experience in shallow water will accelerate deepwater technology. Environmental and regulatory issues, research and development, is necessary for cost effective development of offshore wind farms. It is obvious that the need is there, but it is unfortunate that commercial deepwater technology is ten to fifteen years away.
United States accounts for only 1% of all offshore wind permits around the globe.
Securing cheap, clean, domestic, energy sources is a necessary goal that the United States must pursue with rigorous vigor. The ongoing roadblocks—seemingly one after another—must not continuously interfere with one of the world’s most proven renewable energy technologies, offshore wind farms. More than 40,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy capacity has been permitted around the globe, yet the United States accounts for barely 1 percent of that, and thus far we have not generated our first watt of electricity from this abundant, carbon-free source of power. The longer we wait to begin developing this technology and creating the infrastructure and knowledge base that go along with it, the further we will fall behind the rest of the world, and the harder it will be to bring the economic development and environmental benefits to our own shores.