Will Offshore Wind Lower the Cost of Electricity?

There’s something majestic about the idea of a sunrise on the Atlantic seaboard. An elderly couple walking hand in hand along the southernmost shore of Martha’s Vineyard. Or a Long Island fisherman, up for hours already, sipping his coffee and watching the golden sunlight spill across the ocean from the east, still miles away. Maybe it’s some merchant marines fresh from the academy, leaning over the rail of their vast container ship on their first voyage across the open ocean. They see something in the distance, a gleam of white; something new in the sea, but seemingly as utterly at home as the spray of the waves and the smell of the salt. They see the windmills in their endless rows, turning slowly in the ever-blowing breeze,. Simple, stately, and on an oceanic scale, collecting power from the sea to feed the hungry shore.

While wind farms are new to the ocean, the Atlantic has always been the lifeblood of the Eastern seaboard. Since before the first Europeans arrived at Roanoke, Jamestown, or Plymouth, people have taken their livelihoods from the sea. The offshore wind farms spreading outward from the coasts are only the latest method of harvesting the bounty of the Atlantic.

Offshore Wind Farms Reap the Benefits from the Constant Sea-Breeze

The concept is simple. Like onshore wind farms, offshore wind farms convert kinetic energy from the wind into electrical power. That electrical power keeps your lights on and your refrigerator running. How? Magic.

Just kidding. We know how it works, and it’s not magic, it’s science. Wind is air particles moving from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. The impact of those particles can be used to turn enormous fan blades. These fan blades spin a turbine, which spins a generator. The generator is made of copper, which when spun near a magnet, creates an electrical charge. This charge is collected and sent to transformer stations, which increase its voltage and send it into our interconnected energy grid.

Development Potential for Offshore Wind Farms

Besides the obvious, there are a few differences between onshore and offshore wind farms. Onshore farms are less expensive to build and maintain, largely because they’re easier to get to. For this reason, there are currently many more onshore wind farms in the U.S. than offshore. In contrast, there is far more space for building windmills in the ocean than there is on land. That’s because there’s a lot more ocean than there is land, and a lot fewer people live there, grow crops there, drive cars there, like to take nature walks there, etc. According to some estimates, there is enough wind – and space to collect it – off the coasts of the U.S. to provide around four times as much energy as is currently produced by every energy source in the country.

The Atlantic coast in particular, with its shallow waters, steady winds, and proximity to the most densely settled areas of the country, is ripe for offshore wind development. In fact, it’s already begun. Five turbines off Block Island, Rhode Island, began delivering power to the grid in the fall of 2016. Fifteen more will soon be constructed 35 miles from Montauk, Long Island, which would be capable of powering 50,000 homes. Those 15 would be built on a parcel of land (or sea, I guess) that has room for 185 more, enough to power 600,000 homes. And that’s just one of many parcels of land surveyed for wind development on the eastern seaboard.

Indirect Benefits of Offshore Wind Development

Similar to earlier industries on the Atlantic coast, building offshore wind farms provides not only the direct benefit of electrical power, but indirect benefits as well. Primarily, they provide jobs. In order for windmills to harness power from the sea breeze, people need to build them. In order for them to keep harnessing power, other people need to repair and maintain them. To transport the building materials, replacement parts, and repair workers miles into the ocean, ships to carry them must be captained and crewed. To keep the ships safe, meteorologists and Coast Guard vessels must be on watch. These ships must also be constructed, employing shipbuilders.

Another indirect benefit of offshore wind and another commonality between onshore and offshore wind farms is that once they’ve been constructed, they produce power without emitting carbon or other greenhouse gases, which are harmful to our environment. This aids individual states and the country as a whole in reducing emission totals, which in turn can help reduce the impact of climate change. Ironically, if fewer wind farms are built, then more emissions would be released, which would cause the sea level to rise by inches, then even feet.

Drawbacks of Offshore Wind Development

The primary drawback to the construction of offshore wind farms is the cost. While the average price is affected by many factors, currently, the construction and ongoing maintenance costs of offshore wind remain high compared to other energy sources. The title of this article asked: “Will offshore wind lower the cost of electricity?” The answer is no, at least not immediately. However, the costs of construction and maintenance are going down as production scale and experience levels rise, and more powerful turbines are being installed. In Europe, where offshore wind technology is far more advanced than in the U.S., costs have dropped by half in the past five years. At the lower bounds of estimates, they rival the cost of new nuclear power plants. Lower construction and maintenance costs translate to lower generation costs, and therefore lower end user prices. While offshore wind won’t lower the cost of your electricity tomorrow, it may do so in the new decade.

Liberty Power Helps Consumers Purchase Wind Energy

We at Liberty Power aren’t in the business of building wind farms ourselves. In fact, we don’t own any power generation facilities, and neither do most utilities or third-party energy suppliers. What we do instead is purchase electricity wholesale from a variety of sources, including wind farms, and sell it to individual consumers. By doing so, we can find the best price for electricity in real-time as it fluctuates based on supply and demand. It also allows us to choose specific sources—such as wind farms—and buy specific amounts of electricity directly from them.

So, for customers who prefer to power their homes with renewable energy, but can’t install their own megawatt-producing offshore windmills (I mean, who can?), renewable power plans are available from Liberty Power. By purchasing renewable energy credits, you can guarantee that an amount of energy equal to your usage will be produced from a renewable source, like offshore or onshore wind. To learn more about how you can sign up for renewable energy credits, contact our friendly, professional sales force today.

 

Photo Credit: howzey via Visual hunt /  CC BY-NC-ND

Liberty Power CorpThe Editorial Team at Liberty Power is a swashbuckling group of passionate and creative Energy experts bringing you the hottest topics on exciting market trends, booming products and services, and the latest news in the industry.
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