Offshore Wind Turbine Plan is Flawed

Overview

Europe has held the lead in offshore wind energy since 1991. The United Kingdom has over 1,000 MW of  rated offshore capacity, ref. 1. Denmark ranks second with over 600 MW of rated offshore wind power. Other European countries that have offshore wind turbines include Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Finland. China operates 100 MW of offshore wind turbines. The U.S. has no large operating offshore wind turbines in service to date. However, we have an abundant offshore wind resource that remains untapped. U.S. efforts to install large offshore wind turbines in the Atlantic ocean are underway.

The mission of the wind energy program, managed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is to accelerate widespread deployment of wind power. Their purpose is to promote national security, economic growth and to improve the environmental quality, ref. 2. The DOE manages the investment to develop  U.S. wind power technologies. The intent of the investment is to create and maintain domestic jobs, strengthen U.S. competitiveness in the global wind market and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The DOE wind program directly contributes to the President’s goal for the U.S. to achieve 80% of its electricity from clean energy sources by 2035. A specific objective is to lower the cost of energy from utility scale offshore wind plants. It is expected that wind energy can compete with the electricity costs from fossil sources without subsidization and to compete with retail electricity rates. The benefits include reduced consumption of natural gas and an increase in annual employment to support the manufacture, construction, operation and maintenance of wind turbines.

Four DOE Goals for Wind Energy, ref. 2

1. Reduce the unsubsidized levelized cost of energy for offshore wind energy systems from a reference of 25.3 cents  per kWhr in 2010 to 9.3 cents per kWhr by 2020 and to 6 cents per kWhr by 2030.

2. Deploy 54 GW (54,000 MW) capacity of offshore wind turbines by 2030.

3. Deploy a total of 300 GW (300,000 MW) of onshore and offshore wind capacity by 2030. This total wind capacity is estimated to provide 20% of U.S. electricity demand in 2030.

4. Improve wind turbine component useful life from 10 years to 20 years before replacement.

Economics of Offshore Wind Turbines, ref. 1

As in the case of land-based projects, the initial installed cost for offshore wind power has been increasing over time. The initial installed capital cost for offshore machines has increased by 55% between 2005 and 2007. The capital investment for an offshore wind project in 2010 is estimated at $4,250 per kW of rated power.

The cost of energy produced, over an anticipated 20 year life of a project, is based on a range of factors. Many of the cost factors are currently quantitatively unknown and must be projected. The installed capital costs are expected to increase with the distance from land and water depth. Additional costs, beside the initial installed capital cost for each machine, include operating and maintenance costs, the cost of financing and decommissioning. Factors that affect the cost of energy include the amount of energy generated and long term system reliability.

Operating and maintenance costs are higher for offshore wind turbines than for land-based turbines, primarily due to accessibility issues. It is simply more difficult to perform wind turbine maintenance work at sea. It has been estimated that offshore operations and maintenance can exceed land based costs by a factor of two to three times. In terms of the cost of energy, offshore operations may increase the levelized cost of energy from 20% to 30%.

Conclusions

The word “investment”, used by the DOE, can be interpreted as the expenditure of taxpayer money. The capital cost to install 54 GW of offshore wind turbines is estimated at $127 billion, based on an estimated $4,250 per kWhr of rated power (in 2010 dollars).  Wind turbine operating life in a marine environment is not proven. The cost to maintain and operate 9,000 machines rated at 6 MW is not determined. The DOE plans to scatter these machines along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. The actual amount of energy produced, by offshore machines, will affect the cost of energy and is an unknown factor because wind speeds are variable.  As a result, the actual amount of energy and the cost of energy at the outset of the program cannot be firmly established. The DOE predicts, the cost of electricity will decrease from 25.3 cents to 9,3 cents per kWhr in seven years. This prediction is an absurd myth and misleads U.S. taxpayers.

Investing our future tax money for offshore wind turbines is a high risk. The risk  may very well result in program costs that are  billions of dollars more than current estimates. Please contact your U.S. Representatives and share with them your opinion on the future success of offshore wind turbines.

Energy Independence

When wind provides 20% of our total energy needs by 2030 we will remain dependent on foreign oil imports. Wind energy can decreases our need for coal and natural gas, but not gasoline. We are told that wind turbines will provide a clean source of electricity, but we are not told the price for that electricity. Wind turbine generated electricity remains more costly than the electricity generated from our conventional electric plants. It is estimated that our future wind generated electric bills will at least double and may be as much as three to four times our current electric bills. For example, if your electric bill is $60. per month now you may be paying anywhere from $120 to $240 per month for wind turbine generated electricity in the future. Is clean wind turbine generated electricity worth a three or four fold increase in your electric bill?

To gain energy independence we need a clean substitute for gasoline. Combustion of  biofuels does not produce clean emissions. The only clean burning substitute for gasoline is gaseous hydrogen. The Department of Energy, directed by the Obama administration, has essentially eliminated efforts to introduce hydrogen into our energy economy. The American public has not been educated, by this administration, as to the reasons behind the elimination of  government support for the development and construction of a nuclear-hydrogen production demonstration plant. One can only speculate as to the possible reasons. The time to reach energy independence will be unknown until a common sense plan is formulated and implemented.

References

1. “Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy in Fiscal Year 2010″, U.S. Energy Information Administration, Department of Energy, Washington, DC, July 2011.

2. “Department of Energy FY 2013 Congressional Budget Request”, DOE/CF-0077, Volume 3, February 2012.