States that are currently building out offshore wind with fixed bottom turbines will eventually run out of space to put them. That’s when Dr. Dagher predicts the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center patented offshore wind project design, VolturnUS 1:8, (above) will be in demand for all deepwater locations in the US and around the world.

By Ramona du Houx

April 2, 2021

Offshore wind has the potential to deliver more than enough clean, renewable energy to fulfill the electrical needs of states along U.S. coastlines, and much more.

“We believe that offshore wind is the single biggest lever that we can pull to reduce our emissions, address the climate crisis, meet our energy needs, and grow our economy simultaneously,” said Susannah Hatch, the regional lead for the New England for Offshore Wind Coalition.

The Biden administration’s first move on offshore wind targeted the East Coast where states with fixed offshore wind projects are projected. However, these European styled towers set into the seabed in shallow coastal waters won’t be enough to meet the Biden administration’s goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030.

That’s why the American Jobs Act (AJA) infrastructure proposal, announced on March 31, supports the domestic offshore wind supply chain by calling for billions of dollars to revitalize American ports, boost domestic manufacturers through tax credits and financing, and to create a new office dedicated to monitoring domestic industrial capacity. The plan calls for a $35 billion investment in clean technology research and development, specifically calling for research and development (R&D) funding for new energy technologies like floating offshore wind farms, and others.

“The American Jobs Plan is a long needed and important investment in America’s future that further emphasizes offshore wind energy as a cornerstone industry,” said Brandon Burke, of the Business Network for Offshore Wind. “The Department of Energy’s new Grid Deployment Authority will enable the building of transmission assets that are needed to unlock large scale clean energy deployment, including offshore wind. The White House’s plan to invest in a local supply chain as well as R&D for floating wind turbines, and workforce development initiatives, are necessary for U.S. companies and workers to diversify into the growing offshore wind market, and compete on the global stage.” 

A newly released report, Offshore Wind for America, examines U.S. offshore wind potential by both coastal region and by state, while documenting the status of existing projects and technological advances. New England could generate more than five times its projected 2050 electricity demand with offshore wind alone, but some lawmakers still need to realize that potential.

“To help the industry grow and to hasten that transition to renewable energy our governments and our regular regulatory bodies can do a lot to help, including setting really bold and enforceable targets at the state level and helping to accelerate the permitting and the leasing process to ensure timely development. We can also increase and extend tax credits for offshore wind,” said Hannah Read, Go Big on Offshore Wind associate with Environment America Research & Policy Center.

Massachusetts has the potential to generate the most offshore wind power of any state, while Maine has by far the highest ratio of potential offshore wind power to its current and future electricity needs.

“Environment America’s report confirms the data we have been generating for the state of Maine,” said Dr. Habib Dagher, founding Executive Director of the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center, where offshore floating wind is being developed.

For projections of 2050 electricity demand, the report assumes that U.S. buildings, industry and transportation will all be powered by electricity rather than fossil fuels by mid-century. As the nation transitions to electric vehicles (EV’s) offshore wind could be a reliable source to recharge EVs.

The need for a build out of our electric systems to accommodate electric heating and electric transportation is real.

“Maine spends between 3.6 and $5.8 billion per year on fossil fuels, the majority is used for heating or gasoline. The numbers that we’ve run show that we would need roughly five gigawatts of offshore wind capacity to hit every home and drive every car,” said Dr. Dagher. “That means more than twice the current use of electricity in the state, so there’s going to be a lot of need between energy efficiency and new generation to create that extra resource.”

Offshore wind could provide that resource

There are currently 34 proposals in the US for offshore wind development and 27 projects in various stages of planning and development. Together that adds up to more than 26 megawatts of site capacity. To put those megawatts into perspective, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that the technical resource potential for U.S. offshore wind is more than 2,000 gigawatts of capacity, or 7,200 terawatt-hours per year of generation. That’s nearly double the nation’s current electricity use. For comparison, approximately 90,000 homes can be powered by 1 TWh per year. So, if only 1 percent of the technical potential is recovered from offshore wind, nearly 6.5 million homes could be powered.

Vineyard Wind is projected to start construction next year and come online in 2023. Other than two turbines and federal waters off of Virginia and five in state waters off Block Island, Rhode Island, America has yet to seize the true potential of offshore wind. Europe has over 5,000 turbines installed and Asia is aiming to catch up.

“Other countries have been benefiting from offshore wind for decades, and it’s high time we join them,” said Anya Fetcher, state director for Environment Maine. “Offshore wind has proven itself many times over — and there’s more than enough of it in Maine. It’s an opportunity to solidify our place as a leader in clean, renewable energy, using technology that can be deployed and distributed locally, right here in Maine.”

Of the 14 states along the Atlantic seaboard, 12 have the potential to produce more electricity from offshore wind than they used in 2019, and seven have the potential to produce more than they are projected to use in 2050, according to the report.

Since the industry got going the technology has advanced dramatically, making it cost effective. According to the report, average turbines are now 12 times more powerful than when they were first deployed in 1991.

The states that are currently building out offshore wind with fixed bottom turbines will eventually run out of space to put them. That’s when Dr. Dagher predicts the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center patented offshore wind project design, VolturnUS 1:8, will be in demand for all deepwater locations in the US and around the world.

Offshore floating turbines can be repositioned by boat, weather storms better and maintenance is simplified —

The University of Maine prototype VoltunUS floating wind turbine being towed down the Penobscot River to the ocean where it was anchored for a year and a half undergoing testing with 50 sensors attached to it.
The turbines on the blue are fixed bottom the ones in red floating offshore with morning lines. The VolturnUS is based on the middle red design.

Federal waters are where the large-scale floating wind farms would be located, so far out to sea they won’t be visible from shore. Federal waters start three miles out from the coast.

“If you go about fifty nautical miles off the coast, you’re in about 300 feet of water and therefore you can’t use fixed bottom turbines like those that have been developed in Europe and other places,” said Dr. Dagher.

The bulk of the nation’s offshore wind resources, about 60 percent, are in areas where the water is so deep that the large steel piles or lattice structures fixed to the seabed can’t be used.The first project to scale up that used multiple large offshore wind turbines on floating foundations was Hywind Scotland, using a spar buoy.

“Offshore wind is poised to become a $1 trillion industry by 2040, creating thousands of good-paying jobs, providing clean renewable energy, and spurring economic growth. With our existing port infrastructure and proximity to both European and east coast markets, Maine is well-positioned to become a leader in the offshore wind industry just as Scotland has,” said Governor Mills after returning from a pre-pandemic fact-finding mission.

The University of Maine is leading that effort. Since 2008, Dr. Dagher and his team at the Composites Center, have been working on floating wind turbine technologies. Successfully deploying a VolturnUS prototype in 2013 off the coast of Maine for a year-and-a-half.

The basic design starting point, ironically, came from oil and gas industry rigs. Greatly modified with cutting edge technologies Dr. Dagher and his team developed a semi-submersible floating turbine for their VolturnUS 1:8. It was the first floating offshore wind turbine to send power to the grid in the Americas.

The hull is made of concreate, the wind tower and blades composite materials. The turbine can be assembled at sea off a ship, after being fabricated at dockside or elsewhere and transported to ports. Maine companies, like Reed & Reed and Cianbro have been lined up for every stage of the development of the project as part of The DeepCwind Consortium to establish the state of Maine as a national leader in deepwater offshore wind technology through a research initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation, amongst others.

Dagher’s laboratory conducts stress tests of the wind blades, and other components. They also have the only wave motion basin with a wind tunnel to simulate conditions on the ocean. “Nobody’s put the two together before,” said Dr. Dagher. Using the specialized basin researchers can replicate the worst storms possible using, “specific wave heights and weight frequencies.”

The trimaran hull design proved to be more seaworthy than many vessels. Images of VolturnUS 1:8 show the turbine weathering a 50-year winter storm as waves simply lifted the hull with the wave motion, while it remained nearly stationary and stable.

“The design is very important because this hull is not static it’s moving as the wind and waves blow on it,” said Dr. Dagher.

The ships that will take the modular components to their destinations will be costume designed so they can also service the turbines at sea. The turbine is anchored in place and has three morning lines tied to the seabed. “With the drag anchor you don’t have to actually jackhammer anything to the seabed and then later on, you can pull it up,” said Dr. Dagher. That makes them more environmentally friendly.

The turbines can be repositioned with a simple boat tow if need be. Fixed bottom turbines are stuck in place. The power comes back to shore through a cable on the sea floor.

The VolturnUS is 65-foot-tall and1:8th the geometric scale of the actual turbine that is now under construction.

“The US Department of Energy funded us with $50 million to build the first full size one and that’s what we’re working on now. The goal is to start construction next year and get it up and running by 2023,” said Dr. Dagher.

The floating offshore wind turbine system is more cost effective than fixed bottom turbines —

“The beauty of floating platforms is you can actually make everything dockside and reduce the cost,” said Dr. Dagher.

According to Dr. Dagher, a concrete hull prolongs its life cycle to 100 years, verses using a steal hull that last 25 years. Which would significantly decrease the cost of maintaining the platforms. In addition, conducting repairs at sea will reduce cost.

Diamond Offshore Wind and RWE Renewables invested the $100 million to build and deploy the first wind farm with 12 towers, about 14 miles off Maine’s coast. The new company, called New England Aqua-Ventus, is collaborating with Dr. Dagher and his team.

Environmental concerns —

Maine’s lobster industry is concerned about the turbines and some environmentalists, despite extensive research that started 11 years ago, along with ongoing community meetings.

“Maine’s offshore wind turbines are far enough offshore that interactions with birds are less likely. What we really need to be concerned about is acknowledging that climate change is one of the biggest threats to birds so we’re trying to balance this need for renewable energy to mitigate for climate change effects to wildlife while still reducing additional sources of pressure to populations,” said Shilo Felton, Ph.D. Field Manager of the Clean Energy Initiative at the National Audubon Society. “Coordinated efforts to understand and reduce the risks for birds and other wildlife from the offshore wind is the best way to ensure that this critical resource can be built out efficiently and responsibly to meet a carbon-free future.”

In Rhode Island, coast guard studies have helped guide their offshore wind development with certain specifications on the sizing and placement of the turbines to minimize burdens on the commercial fishermen. The trepidations of commercial fishermen were turned into seeing an economic advantage as muscles grow on the turbines and so does vegetation creating a new environment for fish to thrive.

The following video was published in February 2018 by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) and the Special Initiative on Offshore Wind (SIOW), based at the University of Delaware. It  features never-before-seen underwater footage of fish feeding at America’s first offshore wind farm, as well as testimonials from local recreational fishermen and charter captains.

A regional approach to offshore wind development is necessary for success —

“While we have a huge potential here in Maine, we really can’t do it without collaborating with the region,” said Fetcher.

Offshore Wind for America emphasized that a regional effort to develop offshore wind will be critical for its efficient and responsible development. 

 “New England shares the same regional electricity grid so makes sense to collaborate regionally solely based on that but there are many other regional reasons. It would unlock economies of scale and drive down prices, accelerate development, increase local economic benefits, and improve project outcomes across our shared grid,” said Hatch. “There are numerous challenges to bring offshore wind to the scale needed to mitigate climate change. Each of those challenges would be better addressed with a regional approach. From transmission, to wildlife protection, to port infrastructure. Regional collaboration is necessary for attaining new England’s potential to be a leader and offshore wind.”