Despite some of the challenges that offshore wind developers have faced here in the US, the renewable energy source is getting a lot of attention globally and, according to a report by Pike Research, could be about to undergo a huge surge forward. The “Offshore Wind Power” report indicates that investment in offshore wind power will boom in the next several years and as a result, total installed capacity will increase by a factor of seventeen between 2011 and 2017. That would up the total installed capacity from 4.1 gigawatts to 70.1 gigawatts by the end of 2017.
Pike senior analyst Peter Asmus says that some of the best wind resources are located offshore and that, often, the high-potential areas are located in shallow ocean waters relatively close to urban population centers. Asmus also noted that interest in freshwater offshore wind is also picking up, particularly in the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canadian Midwest.
Offshore wind does face some challenges, though. We’ve recently seen the Cape Wind Energy project face opposition from residents of Massachusetts, for instance, but the challenges aren’t limited to public opposition. Pike Research indicates the cost of offshore wind generation is higher than for onshore wind, in some cases two to three times higher. To achieve a positive economy of scale, project developers are having to deploy bigger turbines in larger wind farms. Asmus says that the long-term fate of the offshore wind power industry may ultimately hinge on driving down the cost of energy (COE) closer to 10 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) by 2030, less than half of the current COE.
Despite the challenges, offshore wind is clearly picking up globally. Pike points out that Denmark already gets over 25% of its energy from offshore wind. Germany, despite its limited coastline, is still heavily investing in offshore wind and the UK is currently the market leader in Europe. Don’t count China out, either. Pikes report shows that China’s offshore wind capacity will likely pull within Europe’s largest national leaders by 2017.