Offshore Wind Power: Finally Made in the USA

Author: Todd Olinsky-Paul, Clean Energy Group | Project: Offshore Wind Accelerator Project

Photo courtesy of the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources and Deepwater Wind.This month, construction was completed on the nation’s first offshore wind farm, a 30 MW, five-turbine project located three miles off the Block Island shore. The turbines will replace the island’s diesel generators and provide electricity to the Rhode Island grid – enough to power about 17,000 homes. It is supposed to go online later this fall.

It’s not a big project, by global standards, but it’s a beginning; and it may prove to be the proverbial pebble that starts an avalanche. The federal government has awarded a dozen offshore leases in states from Virginia to Massachusetts, and according to the LBNL 2015 Wind Technologies Market Report, there are 22 additional offshore wind farms now in development, many in the Northeast, and many larger than the Block Island project.

Cognizant of the technical, economic and political barriers facing offshore wind developers, Atlantic coastal states are increasingly stepping up their support of the nascent industry.

Massachusetts is one of the states that seems poised to follow Rhode Island’s lead. This month, the governor signed into law a bill requiring utilities to buy a combined 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2027 – the first law of its kind in the nation – and MassCEC has announced grants amounting to $700,000 for nine academic and research institutions across the state to identify industry workforce training and safety requirements, establish a multi-university partnership to spur innovation and reduce costs, and develop a new technique to monitor the structural health of wind turbine blades. In addition, the New Bedford, MA Maritime Terminal, a state-funded port specifically designed to support the offshore wind industry, is beginning to see business, in the form of the Denmark-based research vessel Ocean Researcher, which docked there en route to Martha’s Vineyard, where it will study the geophysics of the ocean floor.

New York is also making strides. The state’s Public Service Commission has approved a new Clean Energy Standard requiring 50% clean energy by 2030, and NYSERDA is working on a blueprint to advance offshore wind energy as part of plans to meet that goal. NYSERDA has also announced its intent to bid into a federal leasing process for New York’s Wind Energy Area. And Deepwater Wind, the company that constructed the Block Island project, is proposing a 90 MW, 15-turbine wind farm off the coast of Long Island.

Among the larger offshore wind projects proposed for the Northeast is US Wind’s 500 MW project, which has conducted site survey work off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. That state has extended its open application period for offshore wind projects, which was supposed to close this month, until September 22. The application period is part of a process set in motion by the Maryland Offshore Energy Act of 2013, which, in addition to establishing an application and review process, created a carve-out for offshore wind energy in Maryland’s RPS, specified maximum price and projected rate impacts for electric customers, established a Maryland Offshore Wind Business Development Fund and Advisory Committee within the Maryland Energy Administration, and created an escrow account to ensure the transparent transfer of Offshore Renewable Energy Credits between offshore wind generators and electric suppliers.

Offshore wind, like any other generation technology, will need to demonstrate its value in order to overcome opposition. In the Northeastern US, it appears to be on the cusp of achieving such a demonstration.

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The Offshore Wind Accelerator Project (OWAP), a joint effort of Clean Energy Group and the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), supports states’ efforts to roll out offshore wind energy in the US. Among other activities, OWAP administers the Northeast Wind Resource Center (NWRC), which manages the Offshore Wind Hub and produces a monthly newsletter.

This blog post was also published in Renewable Energy World.

Offshore Wind Power on the Horizon for the Gulf of Maine

Author: Valerie Stori, Clean Energy Group | Project: Offshore Wind Accelerator Project

VolturnUS floating demo. Photo courtesy of the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composite Center.As you drive through the small, bucolic town of Orono, Maine to the University of Maine’s main campus, you would not initially expect to find a world-class research center dedicated to the development of innovative advanced structures and composite materials. Three hours after a scenic drive along the Maine coast and interior lakes, I made my way onto the UMaine campus in search of Dr. Habib Dagher and the Advanced Structures and Composite Center to discuss offshore wind and see the University’s new Ocean Engineering Lab, featuring a unique wind/wave test basin.

The University of Maine was the first in the US to launch a grid-tied offshore wind turbine in the US.  A UMaine Composites Center research program designed a 6MW floating concrete platform and advanced composites materials tower—the VolturnUS prototype, which it deployed at a 1:8 scale off the coast of Castine for 18 months (June 2013 through November 2014). UMaine researchers observed and recorded the motions of the hull and the environment surrounding the turbine with over sixty sensors. With the prototype out of the water and eighteen months of data in hand, UMaine researchers were able to validate design assumptions and numerical models. The research demonstration was funded in part by the US Department of Energy (US DOE), the National Science Foundation, the University of Maine, and the Maine Technology Institute.

When I walked into the new Alfond W2 Ocean Engineering Lab, housed in a 100,000-square-foot laboratory facility, researchers were preparing the wind and wave basin to host a 1:50th scale prototype of the final VolturnUS platform and turbine. The scaled model will sit in the tank for three weeks, where a rotating wind machine and wave maker will simulate hurricane conditions. Again, multiple dozens of sensors will relay real-time data to UMaine researchers to help the team make any final tweaks to the 6MW semi-submersible hull design. A day before the 1:50 model was placed in the basin, the lab was abuzz with researchers assessing equipment, laying mooring lines, and testing sensors. Dozens of sensor wires emerged from the tank and were taped across the lab floor. Excited anticipation of the project’s final test launch filled the lab.

UMaine_windwave_basin

The VolturnUS floating concrete hull technology will be used in the proposed New England Aqua Ventus I 12MW offshore wind pilot project off the shores of Monhegan Island, Maine. In 2009, the Maine Department of Conservation—after an extensive public outreach process—designated a wind energy and development site in state waters nearly 3 miles south of Monhegan Island for the demonstration project. The pilot project is the first stage of offshore wind development for a UMaine-led consortium that hopes to develop New England Aqua Ventus II, a 400-500MW floating offshore project, and additional follow-on projects. The 12 MW pilot will demonstrate the semi-submersible concrete hull at full scale, helping launch an innovative design that has the potential to harness vast wind resources in deep ocean waters while reducing costs. If successful, the concrete hull could revolutionize deep water offshore wind development.

The New England Aqua Ventus I project brings together many local and global private and public entities who have formed a leadership team to develop, construct, and operate New England Aqua Ventus. Project leaders include Emera Inc., Cianbro Corp., UMaine, and UMaine’s Advances Structures and Composites Center. Most recently, French naval defense and ocean energy developer DCNS joined the project team.  Together, the team is focused on reaching commercial scale, manufacturing the foundation, and reducing costs so that the technology can be competitive with other forms of electricity when scaled up. In May, the consortium won an additional $39.9 million over three years from the US DOE’s Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration program. The project must meet project milestones to continue receiving funding. For the UMaine-led project, final design, permitting, and power purchase agreements are all that remain between now and proposed commercial operation in 2019.

At the heart of the partnership is a strong drive to cut costs, create local jobs, and provide renewable energy. The Consortium already has its supply chain in place, with most of materials and services based in Maine and New England.  Maine has the concrete production and manufacturing facilities and materials to construct the foundations in-state. If the technology advances to commercial scale, Maine’s economy stands to benefit from new jobs in the construction, operations, products, and services sectors. A 2013 report estimated the salary impact of the 12 MW Aqua Ventus I demonstration project at $37.4 million to $51.9 million with an estimated 341-475 full- and part-time jobs during project construction. Because the hulls are made of concrete, the hulls can be fabricated on-land and towed out to sea with common tugboats. This not only lowers risks and costs, but also reduces environmental impacts and the need for specialized vessels. In addition, the concrete hulls have an estimated life span of 100 years, three to four times the typical life span of a turbine or a typical offshore wind farm. At the end of a turbine’s life of 20-25 years, the foundations can be towed to shore for turbine replacement, eliminating the need to replace the entire foundation, typically the second most expensive item in the construction of offshore wind farms.

As I hung up my hardhat and safety glasses outside the lab and started down the long hallway lined with photos and stories commemorating the Lab’s many achievements, I was reminded of the many products and testing projects that have their roots in Orono.  Here, seemingly at the end of the road in Maine, was a laboratory not only outfitted in state-of-the-art equipment, but also partnered with business leaders and industrial clients throughout the state, country, and world. Deep water offshore wind development in Maine and around the world has a bright future with the innovative developments taking place in Orono today.

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This blog post was also published in Renewable Energy World

Energy Storage for Public Health: A Smarter Way to Deploy Resources

Author: Seth Mullendore, Clean Energy Group | Projects: Resilient Power Project, Energy Storage and Climate 

View of downtown Los Angeles on a smoggy day. Photo Credit: VinceStamey/ Bigstock.com

Energy storage deployment has been ramping up at a rapid pace across the country, mainly because it can reduce electric bills and cut utility expenses. It is now time to consider another key benefit of storage—public health, especially the power of energy storage to reduce pollution in marginalized communities.

Researchers at the University of California Berkeley and PSE Health Energy, an energy research and policy institute, recently published an interesting article in the journal Energy Policy on the role of clean energy technologies and public health. It describes a new approach to the siting and dispatch of emerging clean energy resources, specifically energy storage and demand response. The authors argue that policy-driven clean energy deployment strategies should be locationally optimized—policymakers should think more about where these resources should go—based on impacts to air pollution, human health, and environmental justice.

The reason for this is that the adverse effects of air pollutants like nitrogen oxides, which can raise ozone levels, and other fine particulates are highly localized. This makes them different from greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon dioxide, whose effects are widely dispersed. The broad clean energy policies currently in place often only target GHGs, ignoring the hazardous pollutants affecting many communities.

These local pollutants can lead to respiratory conditions like asthma and lung disease as well as increased rates of heart disease and pre-term births. The American Thoracic Society reported earlier this year that even a moderate reduction in exposure to these pollutants could save thousands of lives per year in the U.S.

The real local culprits are high-emitting, fossil-fuel power plants, commonly referred to as “peaker plants.” Peakers can run on coal, oil, or natural gas and are typically less efficient and more expensive to run than their baseload counterparts, which operate during normal periods of electricity demand. Apart from being more expensive and less efficient, these peakers tend to emit hazardous pollutants at a higher rate than other conventional power plants. Worse, they are often called upon to run on days already experiencing poor air quality conditions.

This is doubly important when considering the impacts on low-income communities. Studies have repeatedly found that power plants are disproportionately located near low-income communities and communities of color. In fact, the Berkeley study found that more than 80 percent of the peaker plants the researchers identified and mapped in California were located in more disadvantaged communities. Due to the localized effects of air pollutants, there is a direct correlation between living near power plants and adverse health effects, with the heaviest health burdens falling on these disadvantaged communities.

The Berkeley publication calls for policy to consider how to deploy new clean energy technologies like energy storage to alleviate these localized emissions problems. To get the highest environmental health return, it argues that policy makers need to prioritize the reduction of air pollutants near densely populated and disadvantaged communities.

For years, environmental policy has been devoted to increasing the deployment of renewable energy resources like wind and solar to offset fossil-fuel power plant emissions. But the argument has always had a missing link. Only when these intermittent renewables are combined with the control provided by dispatchable technologies like energy storage can they truly target and displace the highest emitting electricity resources. Without storage, emission-free wind and solar energy may not be available during the times of high electricity demand when peakers are called upon.

The Berkeley study suggests that policies aimed at installing and operating energy storage resources to displace these inefficient peaker plants would maximize the potential for societal benefits—especially improving public health in disadvantaged communities. Not only could intelligent siting and dispatch of energy storage technologies reduce total emissions, it could reduce them in a way that benefits those communities most in need.

Replacing peaker plants with energy storage technologies isn’t some novel, futuristic idea. It’s happening right now.

The utility Southern California Edison (SCE) is already turning to energy storage as a cost-effective alternative to natural gas-fired peaker plants. In a recent interview, SCE’s vice president of energy procurement and management stated that batteries can “meet peak demands with lower emissions than natural gas-fired peakers by charging during low-demand periods when excess wind and solar energy is being generated, and discharging during peak demand periods, which displaces the need to burn incremental natural gas in a peaker.”

SCE has contracts in place for nearly 300 megawatts of storage, including a 100 megawatt battery project that will replace a natural gas peaker in Long Beach. The California Public Utility Commission has also authorized utilities in southern California to fast-track energy storage projects aimed at avoiding blackouts during peak demand periods in the wake of gas shortages due to a massive gas leak at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility.

This isn’t just happening in California. New York utility Con Edison announced a project that will install solar panels and batteries in hundreds of homes in Brooklyn and Queens. The batteries will collectively act as a “clean virtual power plant” with the ability to offset peak demand. Kentucky utility Glasgow Electric has its own plans for a virtual power plant with residential storage devices in 165 homes, as does Arizona’s largest electric utility, APS. A municipal utility in Connecticut just completed the largest solar+storage system in the state, designed to shift solar energy to periods of high demand. Projects like these are being explored as a viable alternative to peaker plants across the nation.

In places where the economics of storage don’t yet make sense or utilities are resistant to deploying emerging technology solutions, the public health case may not be enough of an incentive to displace the operation of high-emitting peaker plants. This is where policy will be necessary to prioritize societal benefits.

This type of clean energy policy consideration is beginning to be implemented. The EPA has prioritized clean energy investments in low-income communities as part of the Clean Power Plan’s Clean Energy Incentive Program. California will also incentivize solar energy systems to benefit low-income residents in its new Multifamily Affordable Housing Solar Roofs Program. But more needs to be done to guide intelligent deployment of energy storage resources.

Energy storage has the potential to deliver significant environmental health benefits. To ensure these benefits are fully realized, clean energy policy must be implemented to encourage energy storage deployment aimed at reducing the environmental pollution burdens of those disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by peaker plant emissions and most in need of relief.

This needs to be done now, during the initial stages of energy storage technology adoption, before incentives are largely exhausted and communities in need are again left as an afterthought in the clean energy revolution.

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This blog post was also published on Renewable Energy World and Microgrid Knowledge.