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January 2017 Issue


Accelerating Offshore Renewable Energy


By Jose Zayas
Director, Wind Energy Technologies Office,
U.S. Department of Energy


Jim Ahlgrimm
Acting Director, Water Power Technologies Office,
U.S. Department of Energy



The U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) and Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) are leading the nation’s efforts to accelerate the deployment of offshore technologies that harness wind and ocean energy resources. The offices have made great headway toward harnessing this energy potential through research and development (R&D) partnerships with private industry, academia and national labs. With a fiscal year 2016 budget of more than $95 million for wind (which includes both land-based and offshore) and $70 million for water (which includes funding for hydropower and marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) energy, investments are targeted at improving technology performance and reliability, lowering costs and reducing market barriers of these renewable energy sources.

Offshore wind and MHK hold significant potential to become major sources of American energy; nearly 80 percent of U.S. electric demand comes from coastal states. Data on the technical resource potential suggest more than 2,000 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind capacity or more than 7,000 Terawatt-hours (TWh) per year of generation could be accessed in state and federal waters along the coasts of the United States and the Great Lakes. Offshore wind resources are abundant, stronger and more consistent than land-based wind resources. MHK resource assessments identify a total U.S. technical resource potential of approximately 1,165 to 1,730 TWh of generation per year from ocean wave, ocean current and ocean tidal energy. While not all of this resource potential will realistically be developed, the magnitude represents a substantial opportunity to generate electricity near coastal high-density population centers. More information on the MHK resource assessment and characterization can be found at http://go.usa.gov/xkeMU and on wind resource assessment and characterization at http://go.usa.gov/xkeMm.


Offshore Wind Technology Research, Market Acceleration, Demonstrations
This year the United States saw its first offshore wind farm (30 MW) installed off the coast of Rhode Island, as well as a new national offshore wind strategy—a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior. In the past five years, the Energy Department has allocated more than $200 million for offshore wind technology R&D, demonstration projects and market acceleration.

National Offshore Wind Strategy. In September 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Department of the Interior released the “National Offshore Wind Strategy: Facilitating the Development of the Offshore Wind Industry in the United States” (http://go.usa.gov/xke6T). A culmination of 18 months of collaboration between the two departments and input from key stakeholders, the strategy document details how the wind industry can accelerate the responsible deployment of offshore wind energy in the United States. The actions laid out in the strategy could help enable the 86 GW of offshore wind deployment in the United States by 2050 put forth in the “Wind Vision” (http://go.usa.gov/xkeFK).

The Energy Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed four supporting technical reports (http://go.usa.gov/xkeMq) to inform the development of the National Offshore Wind Strategy, one of which improves upon previous resource assessments evaluating the vast potential for offshore wind energy development across U.S. coasts. This quantitative assessment incorporates new data to keep up with rapidly advancing offshore wind technologies and applies technical, environmental and competing-use exclusions to arrive at what is referred to as the technical resource potential of 2,058 GW.

Market Barriers. In 2011, the Energy Department provided funding to a suite of offshore wind market barriers R&D projects (http://go.usa.gov/xkeM2), including one led by Stantec. Stantec conducted a multiyear study of bat activity at islands, structures and coastal locations in the Gulf of Maine, Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic coast. The study provided key information about patterns of when and where bats fly offshore (http://go.usa.gov/xkeMD). Researchers detected bats at all sites measured; however, most sites and nights saw a relatively small number of bat calls. Bat activity was correlated to several factors, including season, distance from land and distance from forested areas. This study was the most extensive study of its kind to date and helps offshore wind developers understand likely levels of bat activity at potential development sites.

Advanced Technology Demonstration Projects. Since 2012, the Energy Department has supported a portfolio of advanced offshore technology demonstration projects for offshore wind that feature some of the nation’s most innovative offshore wind technologies. To date, three projects—the Atlantic City Windfarm developed by Fishermen’s Energy, Lake Erie Energy Development Corp.’s (LEEDCo’s) Icebreaker project and the University of Maine’s New England Aqua Ventus I project—have demonstrated significant progress toward being successfully completed and producing power.

All of these offshore wind projects have innovative features and are among the first of their kind making their way through state and federal permitting, approval and grid interconnection processes in the United States. They are breaking new ground at virtually every step in the process, providing valuable technological advances and lessons that will benefit the development of the nation’s offshore wind industry for years to come. Through ongoing targeted investment in research, development and demonstration projects, the Energy Department will continue its work to advance the nation’s offshore wind energy industry toward commercial deployment. Information about the Offshore Wind Advanced Technology Demonstration Projects can be found on the Energy Department’s Wind Program website at http://go.usa.gov/xkeMB.

Resource Characterization Buoy Sets Record. One of the Energy Department’s highly instrumented lidar WindSentinel wind resource characterization buoys from AXYS Technologies Inc. ended a 19-month deployment off Virginia Beach, Virginia, this year (http://go.usa.gov/xkeMk)—the longest continuous deployment of the AXYS system. During this time, the heavily instrumented buoy collected a wealth of information, which forms the first publicly accessible database (http://go.usa.gov/xkeMR) to help improve offshore turbine development and reduce barriers to private investment in the offshore wind industry. These lidar research buoys provide data that reveal a clearer picture of air-sea interactions and the site-specific impacts these interactions could have on offshore wind turbine power production. The second buoy has been deployed off Atlantic City, New Jersey, since fall 2015.


MHK Technology Research,
Development, Demonstrations

MHK is an emerging industry with several potentially viable technologies, so the Energy Department is leading efforts to prove functionality; evaluate technical and economic viability; and generate cost, performance and reliability data for a variety of devices. The Energy Department has awarded more than $145 million in funding to technology R&D and demonstration projects related to MHK energy systems and component design and development.

Global Leadership. Each year, the United States contributes a chapter in the “Ocean Energy Systems (OES) Annual Report” (https://report2015.ocean-energy-systems.org), which is released by the International Energy Agency (IEA). The 2015 report contains updates from 19 countries on four different continents and notes achievements in the MHK field over the last year, while providing an outlook for the near- and long-term future of the industry.

The United States leads two IEA-OES annexes—research groups tasked with tackling specific MHK challenges. The Annex IV international collaboration aims to facilitate efficient government oversight to ocean energy systems development by expanding baseline knowledge of environmental effects and monitoring methods. The Annex also released their State of the Science report in April this year (housed in the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory online knowledge management system, Tethys (http://go.usa.gov/xkeMN). It is the most comprehensive synthesis of the state of scientific understanding of environmental research of marine renewable energy ever produced.

Under Annex V, the United States accelerates the development and deployment of ocean energy technology through a multicountry exchange of ocean project experience and information. This allows participants to understand the current state of knowledge in the field and to develop a consistent method of assessing ocean energy devices and systems.

Augmenting R&D Capabilities. In 2016, the Energy Department supported the development and demonstration of several MHK technologies. The department, in conjunction with the U.S. Navy and the University of Hawaii, supported the deployment and testing of Northwest Energy Innovation’s Azura wave energy device at the Navy’s wave energy test site in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii (http://go.usa.gov/xkezc). As the first grid-connected wave energy device in the United States to be validated by a third party, the deployment marks a major milestone for the wave energy industry. In 2016, the Energy Department also announced plans to support two wave demonstration projects and one tidal energy technology demonstration project (http://go.usa.gov/xkeuZ) that are testing and proving device components that have been developed specifically for MHK technologies. Successful completion of these projects will provide the industry with marinized components that will significantly improve the reliability and performance of MHK devices.

The Energy Department also supports research at national laboratories and universities that will enable the MHK industry to further optimize device designs and improve performance. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories are collaborating on a DOE-funded project to develop software tools and design frameworks that the industry can use to optimize device designs and simulate device performance in extreme sea conditions (i.e., storm conditions). The Energy Department is also supporting research at the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center to advance MHK device array design tools and technologies. These laboratory and university R&D projects are developing the numerical and experimental tools and expertise needed to support the development and deployment of the next generation of commercial MHK devices.

Wave Energy Prize. An 18-month design-build-test competition for wave energy came to an end in November 2016. Thanks to an interagency agreement with the Office of Naval Research and the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Carderock Division, the Energy Department-funded Wave Energy Prize finalists tested their 1/20th-scale models of wave energy converter (WEC) technologies at the nation’s most advanced wave-making facility, the NSWC Carderock’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin in Maryland. Four teams surpassed the difficult threshold of doubling the energy captured from ocean waves with their WEC technologies, and the winning team from Portland, Oregon, won the $1.5 million grand prize.

The Wave Energy Prize resulted in numerous successes in attracting new and existing players to wave energy. Teams successfully reached aggressive technical milestones, brought forward innovations across a range of WEC device types, and built technical capacity to test wave energy converters at testing facilities across the country. The Energy Department is already seeing technical innovations in the areas of wave energy converter geometry, materials, power conversion and controls. Some of these include: adaptive sea-state-to-sea-state control, wave-to-wave control, power absorption in multiple degrees of freedom, optimized float shapes and dimensions, survival strategies, use of structures and materials that are cost effective to manufacture, and flexible membranes that react to the wave pressure over a broad area. The Energy Department anticipates that these innovations will play a leading role in the development of a commercially successful wave energy industry. You can read more about the Wave Energy Prize competition results at WaveEnergyPrize.org.

National Wave Energy Testing Facility. To support the R&D of innovative MHK systems, the Energy Department announced a total of $40 million (http://go.usa.gov/xkeJK) in available funding, subject to Congressional appropriations, to support the site selection, design, permitting and construction of a full-scale, grid-connected wave energy testing facility within U.S. federal or state waters. The testing facility will gather critical performance data to address technical risks, lower costs and inform future designs to accelerate the commercialization and deployment of wave energy technologies in the United States (http://go.usa.gov/xkeJd). This funding is intended to further America’s progress in proving wave energy as a viable source for our nation’s clean energy future.

Looking Ahead
The U.S. Department of Energy has made significant investments in American energy technologies, supporting a diversified energy portfolio to help meet our nation’s Climate Action Plan goal of permitting 20,000 MW of renewable electricity generation on public lands and waters by 2020. With more than 50 percent of the American population living within 50 mi. of the coast, offshore wind and marine and hydrokinetic energy could provide a substantial amount of electricity for the nation in areas where it’s needed most.

Leading the world in these offshore energy technologies is critical to strengthening the American economy, and the Wind Energy Technologies Office and the Water Power Technologies Office are at the forefront of the nation’s clean energy frontier. The Energy Department will continue to make key investments to ensure that a cutting-edge research portfolio will produce the next generation of ocean renewable energy technologies and jump-start private sector innovation, providing energy sources that can contribute to our nation’s energy independence.



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