As the renewable energy industry develops, offshore wind farms will to play an important role in power generation. Is that a good thing?
What are the Pros and Cons of Offshore Wind Farms?
Pros of Offshore Wind Farms
- The wind potential over the ocean is far greater than on land. According to NASA, wind not only blows stronger offshore, it blows more consistently and smoothly over the flat surface of the water.
- Offshore wind farms avoid some of the aesthetic and noise related concerns of land-based systems.
- Offshore wind farms generate clean, renewable energy and do not emit greenhouse gases.
- Offshore wind farms tend to be located near major population centers since most of the U.S. population lives on coasts, predominantly in cities.
- Offshore wind turbine parts can be transported by ship, which reduces the logistical challenge of moving such large equipment.
Cons of Offshore Wind Farms
- Offshore wind farms can disrupt the aesthetic beauty of a seascape.
- Offshore wind farms have increased maintenance costs due to their location.
- Offshore wind farms have shorter lifespans than their land-based counterparts, since the ocean is far more of a hostile environment.
- Offshore wind farms present ecological challenges. Scientists are in the process of assessing potential damage to marine ecosystems and bird migration patterns.
What are Offshore Wind Farms?
An offshore wind farm is a power generation facility that uses turbines to capture energy from the wind at sea, convert it to electricity, and convey the electricity back to shore.
As the renewable energy market has grown, offshore wind farms have become an increasingly attractive proposition. There are only so many places on land where the conditions are good enough to build wind turbines. The ocean is far more open. General Electric projects that the offshore wind industry will account for roughly 15% of global wind energy in the next decade.
The U.S. Department of Energy is working with the renewable energy industry to kickstart American offshore wind farms. 58% of American wind resources are located offshore, and we have only just begun to tap into them. As turbine technology progresses, the offshore industry will only become more efficient and more lucrative.
The United States’ first offshore wind farm was completed in 2016 by Deepwater Wind. The farm, called “Block Island Wind Farm,” consists of five 6-MW wind turbines located off the coast of Block Island, in the state of Rhode Island.
The Pros of Offshore Wind Farms, Explained
As stated above, the pros of offshore wind farms are numerous.
First, offshore wind farms are uniquely situated to capitalize on the immense resource of ocean wind. On land, wind is channeled and obstructed by hills, trees, and man-made structures. Over the ocean, wind can blow unimpeded. Furthermore, the government has measured that wind naturally blows stronger at sea than on land. Thus, offshore wind farms can generate more energy than wind farms on land.
Second, offshore wind farms can sometimes avoid the negative aesthetic aspects of traditional wind turbines. Nobody wants a tall, obtrusive, loud turbine in their backyard. Putting them offshore reduces this concern. Of course, people may take issue with turbines ruining their ocean views, but it is a far more tenable position to obstruct a seascape than to annoy an entire town or city.
Third, offshore wind farms offer all the usual benefits of wind energy. Wind energy is renewable, low carbon impact, and reasonably efficient. These benefits will only increase as the technology and scale improves.
Fourth, offshore wind farms are situated extremely close to some of the largest markets for electricity in the nation. Roughly 80% of the country’s energy demand is in the coastal states and the Great Lakes region. Offshore wind farms could meet this demand without having to transport the energy great distances.
Lastly, although maintenance is more challenging, the logistical difficulties of building offshore wind farms are offset by the fact that turbine parts can be transported by ship and barge rather than by truck or rail. Sea transportation is far simpler than freight travel over land.
The Cons of Offshore Wind Farms, Explained
Although the benefits of offshore wind are clear, there are certain drawbacks.
First, offshore wind farms can appear ugly. For people who enjoy coastal views, dozens of gigantic turbines can ruin the scenery.
Second, offshore wind farms are difficult to maintain. Salt water corrodes quickly and performing maintenance on tall structures in the middle of the ocean is naturally arduous. Offshore turbines can be hard to access and even harder to repair.
Third, since the ocean can be a hostile environment, land-based wind farms have significantly longer lifespans than their marine counterparts. Natural wear and tear progresses dramatically faster at sea than on land. Furthermore, because maintenance is more challenging, it can happen less frequently.
Lastly, offshore wind farms present a variety of concerns to ecologists and environmentalists. The exact impact is not yet known, but scientists are studying the effects of wind farms on marine life both below and above the surface. It is not clear just how harmful turbines might be to avian migratory patterns, fish, turtles, and other wildlife, but disruption is certainly possible. As the technology is studied more we will be able to draw better and more accurate conclusions.
For more on energy and climate, see our proposal for Why States Should Expand Net Metering.