NREL Researchers Play Integral Role in National Offshore Wind Strategy

Dec. 16, 2016 | By Kelly Yaker | Contact media relations

A photo of three offshore wind turbines in turbulent water.

Offshore wind energy in the United States is just getting started, with the nation’s first offshore wind installation—the Block Island Wind Farm—off the coast of Rhode Island. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL 40389

The national energy landscape has changed significantly since the first national strategy for offshore wind was released in 2011. With the first operational offshore wind farm along the Atlantic Coast now generating electricity, the United States is beginning a new era of wind energy production. This fact is highlighted in the National Offshore Wind Strategy: Facilitating the Development of the Offshore Wind Industry in the United States, which was coauthored by the Energy Department, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“The 2016 National Offshore Wind Strategy demonstrates the strength of offshore wind’s value proposition and its potential to emerge as a major contributor to the U.S. energy supply over the next few decades. The study scenario developed by the Energy Department’s Wind Vision in 2015 shows 86 gigawatts of offshore wind in U.S. waters by 2050.”

To provide the foundation for the information included in the offshore strategy report, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory produced the following four reports regarding the future of offshore wind in America.

2016 Offshore Wind Energy Resource Assessment for the United States

To reach the Energy Department's Wind Vision report deployment scenario of 86 gigawatts by 2050, approximately 4% of the technical resource area (about 0.8% of the gross resource area) would need to be developed. If developed, the energy produced would be approximately 7% of the U.S. electric consumption. Each region, as shown in the figure, is capable of contributing to a viable offshore wind industry by supporting significant deployment and participating in a robust offshore wind industrial supply chain and its supporting infrastructure.

Two graphs showing the potential capacity and net energy of offshore wind in the U.S.

Capacity (left) and net energy (right) of offshore gross resource (dark blue) and final net technical (light blue) potential estimates for five U.S. offshore wind resource regions.

This report updates a previous national resource assessment study and refines and reaffirms that the available wind resource is sufficient for offshore wind to be a large-scale contributor to the nation’s electric energy supply.

Quantifying the Opportunity Space for Future Electricity Generation: An Application to Offshore Wind Energy in the United States

This report provides a high-level assessment of the demand for additional electric power generation that is not met by existing generation sources from 2015 to 2050. This analysis indicates a total U.S. opportunity space—the difference between the electricity generation from existing power plants and the expected demand—of nearly 3,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) to be available by 2050. 

For comparison, according to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. total electricity net generation in 2015 was approximately 4,100 TWh. For coastal regions alone, the analysis shows that nearly 2,400 TWh of opportunity space is available by 2050. Coastal opportunity space is distributed among five regions:

  • Great Lakes: 688 TWh
  • South Atlantic: 555 TWh
  • Gulf Coast: 502 TWh
  • Pacific: 348 TWh
  • North Atlantic: 289 TWh.

A Spatial-Economic Cost-Reduction Pathway Analysis for U.S. Offshore Wind Energy Development from 2015–2030

To determine the future success of offshore wind in the United States, it's important to understand whether offshore wind can achieve significant cost reductions to allow the technology to reach economic viability.

This study models the cost impacts of a range of offshore wind locational cost variables for more than 7,000 potential coastal sites in U.S. offshore wind resource areas with a time frame from 2015 to 2027. It also assesses the impact of more than 50 technology innovations on potential future costs for both fixed-bottom and floating wind systems. Comparing these costs to an initial site-specific assessment of local avoided generating costs, the analysis provides a framework for estimating the economic potential for offshore wind.

Terminology Guideline for Classifying Offshore Wind Energy Resources

Offshore energy resources have typically belonged to the oil and gas industry, and as offshore wind becomes more viable in the United States, it’s important to make certain that all parties are speaking the same language. This report establishes a clear and consistent vocabulary for conveying offshore wind resource potential in terms that are familiar to the oil and gas industry. The ability to understand similarities and differences in offshore wind and oil and gas resource classification systems is further motivated by those industries sharing a common regulatory authority, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Although it may be a nascent technology in the United States, reports indicate that offshore wind has the potential to become a valuable contributor to the renewable energy mix in American in the decades to come.