The Infrastructural Challenges
While the primary concern for US offshore wind developers is who will be procuring capacity, and how to get it installed, the industry faces no lesser challenges in a host of auxiliary areas. These range from port capacity to transmission links and research and development (R&D) activities. This Info Bite looks at each of these in turn.
Ports The US offshore wind will require three types of ports or terminals, according to Willett Kempton, professor of marine science and policy at the University of Delaware.
• Manufacturing ports for steel substructures, monopiles and components
• Sub-assembly ports, for marshalling nacelles, substations and cables
• Operations and maintenance (O&M) ports
“These have different characteristics and requirements,” says Kempton, emphasizing the need for a variety of port facilities up and down the East Coast. Port space is not only an issue for turbine and foundation manufacturing and assembly, but also for balance-of-plant assets such as high-voltage DC (HVDC) offshore converter stations. These could be deployed in the US if there is a need to build hubs to aggregate power offshore, reducing the cost of energy by eliminating the need for HVAC platforms.
But “these platforms are big,” says Klaas Oltmann, managing director at Overdick, a HVDC offshore converter manufacturer owned by the Engie subsidiary Tractebel. “One of the lessons learned is you need a construction yard that is able to build such a platform.”
Regardless of the type of port, turbine manufacturers will be looking to select facilities based on distance from projects, capacity of the terminal and the presence of a local supply chain. A further consideration in the US may be a requirement for localization. “If there are strict state requirements to do manufacturing or staging within specific jurisdictions, you could be hindering the downwards trajectory in LCOE [Levelized Cost of Energy],” says Matthew Vestal, NYSERDA technical advisor for large-scale renewables.
To date, he said, the trend has been towards incentives rather than requirements. “In no way does NYSERDA want to see a redundant supply chain,” he claims. With many new projects in the pipeline it seems unlikely that there will be overcapacity in that area.
NYSERDA has done an extensive survey of infrastructure assets to enable New York stakeholders to account for what is available.
Doreen Harris, NYSERDA’s VP of Large Scale Renewables says here, “The US certainly does have a multitude of port facilities that can serve this industry. New York actually began considering its port infrastructure a number of years ago when we were advancing the New York Offshore Wind Master Plan, which was issued in 2018. We began to inventory New York's port assets at that time and have continued with more detailed assessments of port availability, and it's actually really exciting, we have port facilities to facilitate all aspects of the offshore wind industry from a manufacturing staging, or operations perspective, all the way from Long Island up to the capital region, up the Hudson River. So, we have a very strong view as to the inventory of our assets and the aspects of the offshore wind industry that they can serve."
The overall view of experts in the NewEnergyUpdate report it that the US has sufficient infrastructure available in many places, and development areas to build more, such as the proposed Port of Baltimore wind energy logistics center at TradePoint Atlantic.
Transmission, distribution and grid connections
Historically transmission “was considered the non-sexy part of offshore wind,” says Bill White, managing director of the developer EnBW North America.
This is no longer the case. In Europe, state-sponsored grid connections have helped developers achieve zero-subsidy projects. Whether the US should follow suit “is a big debate,” says White. “Should we let the developers lead and have all the risk and all the control, or figure out a way of connecting into an offshore wind backbone and have another party bring the electricity back to shore?”
Kenneth Bowes, vice president of ISO policy, siting and compliance at Eversource Energy, says offshore wind should follow the model that has been used historically onshore in New England. “Any generator on land has to pay for those costs,” he says. Hence, “any generator off land should pay those costs,” he argues.
Jose Restrepo, global head of engineering at Linxon, claims it would pay to introduce regulation forcing actors to share the cost of transmission infrastructure. Regardless of who pays, Stephen Conant, partner at Anbaric Development Partners, says the key issue for the US market is how to optimize transmission capacity and not simply deploy interconnection points in response to single projects.
Anbaric is already planning connections with extra capacity, in anticipation of finding customers that will be able to use it further down the line. “It puts the basic infrastructure in place,” says Conant.
Careful planning will be required because on some grids there are only limited points where high-voltage systems can be installed with minimal upgrades. Furthermore, says Dr Tusitha Abeyasekera, converter specialist at MHI Vestas, the turbine maker supplying Vineyard Wind, there are differences in the behavior of wind farms compared to traditional generation assets.
“We’ve had a good look at how we are expected to connect into the grid,” he says. “The grid strength is very important.”
John Dempsey, manager for transmission development at the Public Service Electric & Gas Company, says: “It’s really just about where you go and how you make the best use of that.”
Observers believe the US offshore wind presents industry with significant opportunities for innovation. Recognizing this, in June 2018 the US Department of Energy (DoE) set up a National Offshore Wind R&D Consortium, administrated through NYSERDA. Initially financed with $41m, with $20m from the DoE, the Consortium is growing in scope and aims to fund and coordinate research under three pillars: technology assessments, site characterization, and installation, O&M and supply chain.
The key driver of R & D is reducing cost. Examples of the R&D work underway or proposed include control systems adapted to US conditions and ways to accelerate the localization of the supply chain. Similarly, says Jordan Shoesmith, who handles Vineyard Wind’s project management office and bid development, “There’s a focus on the power systems and maybe how we can make that cheaper for us. There’s a lot we can benefit from.”
The US offshore wind market is probably the most rapidly-developing renewable energy sector in the world. Follow #USOW20 for the latest news and expert opinions.
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