Distributed Energy Resources

Study finds declining costs make Ore. offshore wind ‘promising’

The prospects for the development of wind power projects off the coast of Oregon are “promising” but would require floating wind turbine technologies, according to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Offshore wind has become prevalent in Europe, but was slow to catch on in the United States before 2016 when the country’s first offshore wind project, the 30-megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm, went online in Rhode Island.

Until then, the higher costs of offshore wind compared with onshore wind inhibited development, but technological improvements and economies of scale have brought costs down, resulting in a surge in projects, particularly in New England where several large projects are under way.

In December, Anbaric filed an application with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for the right to develop the Southern New England OceanGrid, an open-access offshore transmission system that would be capable of connecting up to 16,000 MW of offshore wind to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. And in October, the newly launched Offshore Wind California coalition called for setting a state goal of reaching 10 GW of offshore wind by 2040.

Oregon, in particular the southern coastal regions, has some of the best wind resources in the United States with average wind speeds near 10 meters per second, according to the NREL report, Oregon Offshore Wind Site Feasibility and Cost Study. But unlike the East Coast with its Continental Shelf, water depths off the Oregon coast present a challenge.

Any “significant deployment” of offshore wind projects in the Pacific region, and specifically in Oregon, will require floating wind energy technologies because 97% of the 62 GW of available offshore wind resources in Oregon is in water greater than 60 meters (196.85 feet) deep, the NREL study found. So far, most offshore wind development has been in water 50 meters (164 feet) deep or less.

To date, floating wind power projects have been scarce, but the technology appears to be gaining ground. As of year-end 2018, only eight floating offshore wind projects had been installed worldwide with a combined capacity of 46 MW, five of them in Europe and three in Asia. However, there were also about 4,888 MW of floating offshore wind capacity in the operational and development pipeline as of year-end 2018, according to the NREL study. Some of those proposed projects are in waters off the coasts of California and Hawaii, although BOEM has not yet issued leases for any projects in those states.

The NREL study was undertaken for and funded by BOEM to assess present and future costs of floating offshore wind technology deployment in the state of Oregon at commercial scale.

The study built upon a 2016 study NREL did on offshore wind costs in California. That study estimated a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for floating offshore wind in California at $100/MWh or less by 2030. Since the 2016 study, however, the technologies for both fixed-bottom and floating offshore wind have “progressed at a rapid rate,” the new study found.

The new study estimates that the LCOE cost of a floating wind project in Oregon ranges from $74 MWh to $53/MWh in 2032. “These costs reflect lower LCOE than the previous California study conducted by NREL for BOEM because of new industry data and modeling assumptions that support reduced capital expenditures and operational expenditures,” NREL said in the report.

The study analyzed floating offshore wind costs at each of the five hypothetical sites along the Oregon cost using seven years of wind speed data and assuming a 600-MW wind plant at each site equipped with “conceptual NREL-designed” 15-MW wind turbines.

In the report’s conclusion, NREL noted there are still “significant challenges for offshore wind to overcome in Oregon,” including optimization of floating technology, coexistence with the fishing industry, mitigating impacts to wildlife and the viewshed, and integrating with the existing land-based grid.

Nonetheless, the authors concluded that “offshore wind can play a long-term role in helping to meet state and regional electricity-generation goals and could be synergistic in relieving congestion at some grid locations.”

The report is available here.