54 GW Of U.S. Offshore Wind By 2030?

To reach the goal of producing 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030, the United States should develop at least 54 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power, according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Doing so, the NREL said, would provide clean power to high-demand urban centers, generate $200 billion in new economic activity and create more than 43,000 permanent, high-paying jobs.

The optimistic report isn’t surprising and actually might be seen as modest given what we already knew. After all, just a month ago the NREL said the United States had the potential to produce more than 4,000 GW of electricity from offshore wind — four times the nation’s current generating capacity from all sources. Private groups have also trumpeted the potential for wind-power generation off U.S. shores.

image via National Renewable Energy Laboratory

NREL said it factored in cost, regulatory and environmental considerations in the new report. The gap between the theoretical possibility and the 54 GW vision is recognition of what the NREL called the “significant” barriers and challenges to developing the resource.

On the economic front, it said “no substantial new technological breakthroughs” would be necessary to make 54 GW viable. With regulations, it said “the federal government needs to partner strategically with states where offshore wind development is planned or underway.” And while acknowledging potential environmental and socioeconomic impacts, the NREL said “risks associated with offshore wind energy are not as serious or potentially catastrophic compared with other energy supply technologies.”

The NREL report noted that “the United States leads the world in installed, land-based wind energy capacity, yet has no offshore wind generating capacity to date.” Meanwhile, nine European countries have installed “more than 830 turbines with grid connections,” adding up to 2,300 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

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