America shifts gears in the green energy transition, but hurdles persist

Green transition 22 April 2022 Dr.-Ing. Tim Fischer

Offshore wind power could be a game-changer in the country’s efforts to build renewables and cut carbon emissions at unprecedented scale.

Articles
8 mins

The US rarely does things by halves, but it has taken to heart the global climate goal of halving carbon emissions by the end of the decade. The Administration committed in 2021 to cut US greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. 

It is also investing in the green energy transition to “help us lock in progress at home toward our climate goals,” said US President Joe Biden. “Making these ambitious investments isn’t just good climate policy, it’s a chance for each of our countries to invest in ourselves and our own future.”

Global investment in the green energy transition rose by 27% in 2021 to USD 755 billion, as renewable energy continues to outcompete fossil fuels on price. Furthermore, as the ongoing war in Ukraine reminds us, investing in renewables is a potent weapon in the fight for democracy and energy independence. Still, America faces big challenges in its transition to green energy.

Mind the gap

“The US green energy transition will initially be about phasing out traditional power-producing technologies such as coal and gas and replacing them with solar and wind energy to power US households and industry,” says Dr Tim Fischer, Global Director for Offshore Wind Services at Ramboll. 

The US is the world’s second-highest user of primary energy after China. About 60% of the country’s energy production is based on natural gas and coal. Renewable energy comprises 21% of US electricity generation today and expected rise to 42% by mid-century. The country reached a green energy milestone on 29 March 2022 when wind turbines in the continental US produced more electricity from wind power than both coal and nuclear energy, for the first time ever.

“The US energy transition will be less about new technologies and more about developing the infrastructure and local supply chain needed to enable the green transition, such as an upgraded electricity grid and marine facilities to support the build out of offshore wind power,” Fischer says.

While onshore wind is an established contributor to the US energy system, only 42 MW offshore wind power is currently deployed in the US. The Administration has set a target of deploying 30,000 MW of offshore wind energy in US waters by 2030, equivalent to powering ten million homes with green energy. 

From global to local

Offshore wind farms can harvest faster and more consistent winds at sea and will be a core building block of the US green energy transition. They are especially relevant for North-Eastern US states with large populations and high energy demand, but which lack space onshore for installation of large-scale green energy infrastructure. 

Deployment of offshore wind is also expected to ramp up along the US West Coast, including in California, which is the world’s fifth-largest economy and an established leader in green energy innovation. Meanwhile, the US Gulf Coast states aim to leverage their deep experience in offshore oil and gas in transitioning towards an offshore wind industry.

However, establishing a local US supply chain and port infrastructure for offshore wind is a significant hurdle. The offshore wind supply chain today is global, while US port facilities are largely allocated to other industries, and mostly unable to handle components at the scale needed by the current and future generations of offshore wind turbines. Moreover, a US-based skilled workforce able to build and operate offshore wind installations also needs to be developed.

“The US is an exciting market for offshore wind and it’s truly in motion. However, much of the know-how for offshore wind is in Europe. The first step in building local US offshore wind capacity is to bridge the gap between EU technology and service suppliers, and US energy developers,” Fischer explains. “The challenge is to go from a standing start and meet ambitions for the buildout of offshore wind by 2030 at reasonable cost.”

US-made offshore wind solutions

Dominion Energy, one of the largest US utilities, wants to prove that it can be done. The company is developing the 2,640 MW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind, to be installed 27 miles off the coast of Virginia Beach. The wind farm is projected to power up to 600,000 homes, avoid 5 million tons of carbon emissions per year, and create 1,100 jobs.  Expected to go online in 2026, it will be the first ever wind farm owned by a US utility. 

At the same time, Dominion Energy is upgrading a deep-water terminal in the Port of Virginia to handle the heavy offshore wind components needed to construct the wind farm. It is also developing the first US offshore wind turbine installation vessel, which is currently under construction in a Brownsville, Texas shipyard and utilizes more than 14,000 tons of domestically sourced steel, with nearly 10,000 tons of steel coming from suppliers in Alabama, West Virginia, and North Carolina.

“It would be a symbolically big win for the US in having a locally-developed offshore wind farm,” says Fischer.

“Dominion Energy is developing the infrastructure needed for the wind farm from the ground up, while Ramboll is providing technical development and project management and advisory. It’s a unique model that allows both partners to learn what is required to execute a commercial scale, locally supported offshore wind facility in US waters.”

Meanwhile, in New York State, the 132 MW South Fork offshore wind farm, off of Montauk Point, will feature the first ever US-built offshore wind substation. The substation is being designed by Ramboll, and fabricated by the local contractor Kiewit, on behalf of the developing consortium between Ørsted and Eversource. When fully operational in 2023, the wind farm will power more than 70,000 homes on Long Island.

Selected US state targets for offshore wind

  • New York State has a target of 9,000 MW offshore wind power by 2035 and a zero-emissions electricity sector by 2040. 
  • Virginia aims produce at least 5,200 MW offshore wind power by 2034 and reach 100 percent carbon-free energy production by 2045. 
  • California expects to set offshore wind planning targets for 2030 and 2045 in June this year, and is committed to economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045 and.
  • Oregon and Washington State are currently exploring opportunities and bids for offshore wind projects including floating offshore wind.
  • Louisiana has fixed the first offshore wind target of any Gulf Coast state with leasing of offshore wind areas expected during late 2022 in the Gulf of Mexico 

To contact the editor of this article, email: Devapriyo Das, Group Content Manager -Ramboll

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