U.S. lags Europe on offshore wind efforts

The first offshore wind project is now under construction in the U.S. and others are in the works, but the industry is expected to remain well behind Europe and even onshore U.S. wind.

Rhode Island’s Deepwater Wind reached its first “steel in the water” milestone in the early construction phase of its Block Island Wind Farm at the end of July, and the company has some other projects planned offshore of the Atlantic coast.

But a report Friday by Rachel Marsh and Cara Marcy of the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted that, when compared with western Europe, which is the leader in offshore wind energy, the U.S. is estimated to have more abundant and affordable onshore wind resources, which are mostly located in sparsely populated areas like western Texas.

The EIA report said economic and policy pressures have generally made offshore wind projects unattractive unattractive, while onshore installations have grown substantially because they are cheaper to build and easier to maintain.

Still, the 30-megawatt Block Island project is kicking off a potential wave of activity.

“We know the world is watching closely what we do here, and we’re incredibly proud to be at the forefront of a new American clean-tech industry launching right here in the Ocean State,” said Deepwater Wind CEO Jeffrey Grybowski in a prepared statement. “This moment has been years in the making – and it’s just the start of something very big.”

The Block Island Wind Farm is expected to come online in 2016 and would be the smallest of the company’s three offshore projects planned along the Atlantic Coast.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates the country has 4,200 gigawatts of offshore wind potential, compared to 11,000 gigawatts of onshore wind potential. A positive for offshore wind is there are more consistent wind speeds present over the ocean, allowing for more electricity generation capacity.

Europe as 90 percent of the planet’s 8.8 gigawatts of active offshore wind power, according to the EIA. The U.S. has seen multiple offshore wind projects fizzle out or stalled in the developmental stage, such as Cape Wind, the Virginia Offshore Wind Technology Advancement Project, and Fisherman’s Energy Wind of New Jersey.