European offshore wind setting records in 2010

Can European success stories and hopeful statistics get Americans on board with offshore wind?

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
GE plans to spend $450 million to develop its wind turbine business in Europe. GE

Offshore wind installations and connections in Europe are at a record high.

For the first half of 2010, over 118 new offshore wind turbines totaling 333 megawatts worth of capacity became operational in Europe. For comparison, a total of 577 megawatts worth were installed for the entire year of 2009. In addition to those turbines up and running, another 151 turbines have been installed and await grid connection, according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

Europe now has 948 offshore wind turbines offering a total capacity of 2,396 megawatts in operation.

Of those offshore wind projects connected to the grid in the first half of 2010, EWEA estimates that E.ON Climate and Renewables developed 64 percent of them, while Siemens supplied 55 percent of the turbines.

Of course, Siemens, a major wind turbine supplier, will soon face more competition. GE announced in March that it plans to put $450 million into developing its wind turbine business in Europe over the next 10 years.

Within days of the EWEA report, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) announced it's forming the Offshore Wind Development Coalition (OffshoreWindDC), a coalition made up of wind developers and supportive organizations whose sole purpose will be to educate the public on the pros and cons of offshore wind, and promote its installation.

They have a good reason to develop a lobby group.

While the residents of the European Union seem to have been sold on the idea that offshore wind can be a significant contributor to their pledge to get 20 percent of their energy from renewable resources by 2020, the U.S. public has yet to embrace it despite predictions of a positive impact.

About 300,000 megawatts worth of offshore and onshore wind energy combined could provide enough energy to generate 20 percent of U.S. electricity as of 2030, and over 50,000 MW of that could be provided by offshore wind turbines alone, according to a U.S. Department of Energy estimate.

Researchers at the University of Delaware and Stony Brook University used data from 11 meteorological stations to track wind patterns hourly over the last five years. It estimated that if just two-thirds of the offshore wind power that exists off the U.S. northeast coast were tapped by offshore wind projects linked together by a common offshore wind grid, it could provide enough consistent electricity to power residential homes from Massachusetts to North Carolina.

While Europe currently has 948 offshore wind turbines in operation, the U.S. is still waiting for the first offshore wind farm to be built and currently there are just over 5,000 megawatts worth of offshore wind energy projects that have been proposed or are in the development stages in the U.S.

Many believe that news of projects getting way-laid for years because of local opposition, permit, and regulation issues as in the case of Cape Wind, have left wind developers reluctant to develop offshore projects in the U.S.

Recent federal and local government encouragement for offshore wind has helped spur more development, but there still seems to be a struggle to get real industry momentum. Developers looking to place offshore wind farms within sight of land face regulatory control issues and possibly local opposition from those who see wind turbines as eyesores. Placing offshore wind farms out of sight and in federal waters avoids local opposition and regulatory hurdles, but can make projects cost-prohibitive since the foundations needed to support turbines in deeper waters are expensive.

OffshoreWindDC will be led by Jim Lanard, former managing director at Deepwater Wind, and in addition to education programs will also lobby the government to "secure long-term tax policy for offshore wind and shorten the permitting timeline for projects."