West Coast Ports Strategy Study
NREL identifies opportunity for a strategically designed U.S. West Coast ports network that can unlock the potential of commercial-scale floating offshore wind energy deployment.
The U.S. West Coast is ramping up offshore wind energy activities with a vision of deploying commercial-scale floating offshore wind power projects in the 2030s, with the industry anticipated to expand deployment across the country though 2050 and beyond. Other regions of the United States—such as the Gulf of Maine, the Central Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico—also have the potential to deploy offshore floating wind energy in the next few decades.
Unfortunately, without needed upgrades, a lack of suitable port infrastructure could make it difficult to build major wind energy technology components domestically and install projects efficiently. This limitation could prevent the offshore wind energy industry from contributing to clean energy goals and domestic economic growth, as projects may be delayed or canceled if they cannot be installed efficiently.
There is still time to develop port infrastructure to support floating offshore wind energy deployment on the U.S. West Coast because projects will likely not begin until the late 2020s or early 2030s. This gives the floating offshore wind energy industry the opportunity to strategically develop a collaborative port network that could efficiently, cost effectively, and reliably support fabrication, installation, and operation and maintenance activities along the U.S. West Coast.
With funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory led the collaborative effort to develop a West Coast ports strategy.
What the United States Needs
The United States would need to develop three primary types of port sites on the West Coast to enable commercial-scale floating offshore wind energy deployment. They are:
- Manufacturing/fabrication sites, where major offshore wind components are built, stored, and transported
- Staging and integration sites, where components are delivered, stored, and assembled into complete floating wind turbine systems that can be towed to the project site
- Operation and maintenance sites, which act as a base for vessels that travel to the floating offshore wind project to perform regular maintenance activities.
The number of available port sites can dictate the amount of offshore wind energy that can be deployed. Meeting California’s 25-GW offshore wind energy target by 2045 would likely require four staging and integration sites and at least eight operations and maintenance sites within the state, which could cost around $5 billion to develop.
An ambitious offshore wind energy deployment scenario of 55 GW along the entire West Coast by 2045 could require nine staging and integration sites (at four or five ports) and 17 operations and maintenance sites along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington, with an associated investment of around $11 billion.
A Supply Chain
West Coast states could choose to develop a local supply chain, which could create local jobs and economic benefits, de-risk deployment by reducing dependencies on imports, and reduce emissions associated with transportation.
Expanding the port network to create a West Coast supply chain could require 16–28 additional sites to support 25–55 GW of deployment, respectively. These manufacturing sites would likely cost an additional $11 billion–$19 billion to construct.
A West Coast supply chain could reduce lifetime vessel emissions for the overall project pipeline by around 40% by eliminating the need for transporting major components across the Pacific Ocean.
|Port Location and Type
|Target Deployment: 25 GW
|Target Deployment: 35 GW
|Target Deployment: 55 GW
California Staging and Integration
California Operations and Maintenance
California Manufacturing and Fabrication (With U.S. Supply Chain)
Washington and Oregon Staging and Integration
Washington and Oregon Operations and Maintenance
Washington and Oregon Manufacturing and Fabrication (With U.S. Supply Chain)
Total Investment (in $ Billion; Without Supply Chain)
Total Investment (in $ Billion; With U.S. Supply Chain)
Total Offshore Wind Energy Deployed by 2045 (in Gigawatts)
Potential Impacts of Developing Ports
Clearly, a floating wind port network would require a significant investment and would take time (potentially 10 years or more to plan, permit, and construct). Although these are large investments, they could enable hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of floating offshore wind energy to be deployed on the West Coast.
NREL considered the impact of a developed port network and found that, on the West Coast:
- A supply chain could be cost-competitive because of reduced transportation costs and tax incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act, although labor and raw material costs may be cheaper for overseas manufacturing hubs.
- A supply chain developed by collaboration among California, Oregon, and Washington reduces the risk of global supply chain bottlenecks and creates local jobs and economic benefits because, although all West Coast states have several suitable ports for different aspects of offshore wind power project development, no single state has enough sites to conduct all of the manufacturing needed for even a 25-GW level of deployment.
- Port development could impact how much communities benefit from new or expanded ports and job opportunities because they also face diverse health, environmental, educational, economic, and accessibility burdens.
- The distance from an offshore wind power project to the installation and operations ports could have significant impacts on the levelized cost of energy, which could increase by 15% if this distance increases from 50 to 400 km.
How To Develop a West Coast Ports Network
The significant investment needed to develop ports on the West Coast could enable even higher levels of offshore wind energy deployment; however, uncertainty around deployment levels, technology choices, and stakeholder considerations create challenges for port investment.
NREL’s report outlines potential actions to address major challenges, including:
- Improve communication and strategic planning between key stakeholders to establish long-term plans, best practices, and roles within the port network
- Conduct up-front coordination with port communities and tribes
- Develop new programs to train construction workers and port workers
- Achieve a transparent and predictable permitting process for new/upgraded ports
- Coordinate with vessel operators and shipyards to help develop a fleet of floating wind installation and operations vessels.
The Impacts of Developing a Port Network for Floating Offshore Wind Energy on the West Coast of the United States, NREL Technical Report (2023)