Tilting Windmills: Offshore Wind Farming

United States’ first offshore wind farm will provide electricity to about 17,000 homes.

One of the most famous moments from the novel “Don Quixote” is of the eponymous knight mistaking a windmill for a giant and attempting to engage it in a joust. The battle results in Quixote getting hopelessly entangled in the sails of the windmill, twisting with them as they go around. This iconic imagery can be applied to the prevailing debates about the feasibility of modern wind technology in the United States: Is it all just a dream, or is clean energy a practical and affordable option?

Deepwater Wind’s $300 million (Rs. 2,000 crores approximately) five-turbine offshore wind project, Block Island Wind Farm, suggests that clean energy is not just possible and affordable, but a practical necessity about to make its presence felt, in a big way, in the United States.

The company, headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, has developed the United States’ first offshore wind farm, which will produce enough clean energy to power 17,000 homes for an estimated 20 years or more. The wind farm began commercial operations in December 2016.

The project’s initial energy output would be far less than the amount larger offshore wind farms generate in Europe and much smaller than the energy output of coal and natural gas providers in the area. However, there is room to grow. The area under lease by Deepwater Wind has the potential to house 200 turbines, with the first farm near Block Island, near the coast of Rhode Island. This will be followed by a 15-turbine project, which will be located 48 kilometers off the coast of Montauk, New York.

With this, Deepwater Wind has effectively positioned itself as the test case for the offshore wind farming industry in the United States.

Offshore wind harvesting addresses many of the concerns related to land-based wind energy in the United States, including those about the aesthetic intrusion of wind turbines. Turbines located on platforms built in the ocean are not only out of sight, but they are also in an optimal position to capture strong offshore wind currents. Moreover, these winds are conveniently at their strongest when energy demands are at their highest—during midday and early evening—making the harvesting of strong, consistent offshore winds an excellent prospect.

An additional appeal of the Deepwater project is its potential to create employment in the burgeoning field of renewable energy. At the local level, Providence has already seen approximately 300 workers employed by the Deepwater Wind project, with many more to follow as plans expand.

Although it’s a small initial development, particularly in the context of a country whose energy needs are enormous, the success of this project could be the breakthrough needed to turn the idea of clean offshore wind energy into reality.

Trevor Laurence Jockims teaches writing, literature, and contemporary culture at New York University.


India Promotes Offshore Wind Energy

In February 2015, the Indian government announced its plans to almost quadruple its renewable power capacity to 175 gigawatts by 2022, as part of the plan to supply electricity to every household in the country. This includes 60 gigawatts of wind energy.

India already has a strong track record in onshore wind, with an installed capacity of 26,743.61 megawatts or 26.74 gigawatts, according to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, at the end of March 2016. The sector has faced several challenges, including state-specific issues linked to land acquisition and grid integration. However, both onshore and offshore wind energies are anticipated to play a vital future role in moving the country into a low-carbon economy. During 2013, the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy launched consultations on its policy for offshore wind under the previous government.

The National Offshore Wind Energy Policy-2015 and guidelines on resource assessment, as well as clearances for setting up offshore wind projects, were approved by the Union Cabinet in September 2015. The objective of the policy is to promote the development of offshore wind energy in the country. It is expected to encourage research and development in the offshore wind energy sector, reduce carbon emissions, create employment and promote deployment of offshore wind farms in the exclusive economic zone of the country, along its 7,500 kilometer long coastline. The living and nonliving resources in this zone, which measures about two-third of the landmass of the country, are exclusive to India. A preliminary assessment suggests potential to establish  wind farms of one gigawatt capacity each along the coastline of Rameswaram and Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy is the nodal ministry for use of offshore areas within the exclusive economic zone. The National Institute of Wind Energy in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, is authorized as the nodal agency for development of offshore wind energy in the country and to carry out allocation of offshore wind energy blocks.


Source: “Supply Chain, Post Infrastructure and Logistics Study for Offshore Wind Farm Development in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu” by Facilitating Offshore Wind in India project.