A few years ago, the prospects of offshore wind energy seemed lofty, but the industry is finally taking off. As part of his efforts to combat climate change, President Joe Biden has pledged to double offshore wind production by 2030. This commitment stems from the enormous benefits and potential that wind energy can provide as we transition to clean, sustainable energy.
Harnessing something as intangible as wind may seem like an unlikely source of energy, but it’s downright powerful, thanks to the design and capacity of offshore wind farms. A single rotation of General Electric’s most powerful turbine, Haliade-X, can power a household in the United Kingdom for two days. Results may differ slightly in the United States because the average U.S. household uses about three times more electricity than the average U.K. household.
Last month, the Biden administration approved the Vineyard Wind project, the first large-scale wind farm in the United States — located 15 miles off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, it will use 62 Haliade-X turbines to power 400,000 homes and generate 3,600 jobs.
The project is massive compared to two other U.S. projects — one with five turbines off the coast of Rhode Island and another with two turbines off the coast of Virginia. Together, they produce 42 megawatts of electricity per year. Put into context: the Block Island project — alone — produces about 30 megawatts of offshore wind, and has the capacity to power 20,000 homes.
Here’s a look at five benefits of offshore wind:
Jobs. Offshore wind power creates jobs. Biden administration officials estimate that offshore wind farms could generate 44,000 new jobs in the sector alone — through construction jobs — as well as 33,000 new jobs in other sectors, including manufacturing, installation, and operations and maintenance (O&M). According to a recent report by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management at the U.S. Department of the Interior, O&M jobs are considered permanent, highly skilled jobs because annual and ongoing operations are needed to sustain the life of the installation.
Tourism. Offshore wind farms attract tourists, according to a 2019 study from the University of Rhode Island. The Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island saw a 19 percent increase in AirBnB leases since it was built in 2016. Tourists see the wind turbines by boat, with some touring the site by the Block Island Ferry.
Opponents say massive wind farms impair visual enjoyment of the natural environment. In fact, offshore wind farms are located far from the coastline; as such, they are less visible from land and don't require hundreds of miles of transmission lines, which are a true eyesore. With the noted increase in visiting tourists, it’s clear that when turbines are visible, they bring revenue to the region.
Fishers also benefit. Anglers near Block Island noticed target species crowd around the turbines because their steel bases create “support structures,” encrusted with mussels and crustaceans, that attract scup, mahi-mahi, and striped bass.
Public Health. Wind energy is clean; it doesn’t pollute the air like coal, gas, oil and other fossil fuels. The leading driver of climate change, fossil fuels emit nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide — all of which damage public health. Wind energy, on the other hand, can help the United States transition away from fossil fuel emissions and improve not only our environment but also our health.
Sustainability. Unlike fossil fuels, which take millions of years to form, wind energy is inexhaustible. Offshore wind power differs from its onshore counterpart in two ways. First, offshore wind speeds are steadier and faster and, as a result, generate more, and more reliable and efficient, energy. Second, offshore wind turbines are unimpeded by physical restrictions, whereas onshore turbines can be blocked by buildings or other structures in the natural environment.
Resilience. Unlike traditional building structures, wind turbines are adaptable to hurricanes; they have a built-in mechanism that locks and protects the blades when wind speeds exceed 55 miles per hour. When storms subside, the blades resume providing electricity to the grid. They are reliable in all seasons.
Winter, in fact, is the most productive season for offshore wind power because that’s when winds are strongest (because air density increases with falling temperatures). Freezing weather isn’t a problem either, thanks to de-icing and ice-proofing strategies. As our world moves toward clean and renewable sources of energy, and as the wind market grows, significant improvements in wind technology are expected.
Of course, change brings skepticism. But offshore wind farms are crucial as we transition toward a clean energy future that creates jobs, improves public health, and protects our environment.