The US Department of Energy is drafting four strategy initiatives to accelerate offshore wind development at a pace that matches up to President Joe Biden’s plans to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.

The first stage of initiatives, from now through 2027, focuses on establishing the industry and supply chain in the US.

They include:

  • Now — aimed at fostering fixed-bottom offshore wind farms by lowering costs, developing a domestic supply chain, and improving siting.
  • Forward— to put the US in the leading position for floating offshore wind design, manufacturing, and deployment.
  • Connect — to enable transmission solutions for large-scale offshore wind deployment and enhanced grid reliability.

The fourth initiative, Transform, would look at expanding offshore wind to co-generation technologies, such as hydrogen production, for widespread electrification from 2024 to 2030.

Facing concerns that the US supply chain for offshore wind is too far behind competitors to bring Biden’s targets within reach, the DoE, the Department of the Interior (DoI) and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) are promising to accelerate their plans for offshore wind lease auctions in order to get new projects in the pipeline.

New auctions

The DoI announced last week that the BOEM will publish two calls for information and nominations for the possible leasing of areas off the Oregon coast and in the Central Atlantic region. Both regions expect to have lease auctions in 2023.

The department also will hold an auction for two lease areas off the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina next week, and California is preparing for a lease auction later this year. California’s auction would be the first to focus specifically on floating wind options.

BOEM is likely to make a play on the Gulf of Mexico soon too, but long leasing processes could still draw out that move.

“There’s absolutely a really powerful opportunity to leverage oil and gas infrastructure with respect to offshore wind development,” said Jocelyn Brown-Saracino, offshore wind lead of the DoE's Wind Energy Technologies Office, at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston.

“The shipbuilding infrastructure that has serviced the oil and gas industry can also play an important role in offshore wind development in the Gulf [of Mexico] and around the country.”

The goals are ambitious, given the DoE estimates five or six wind turbine installation vessels will be needed to keep up with the project pipeline. Only one such vessel that would meet US Jones Act requirements is currently in construction.

Supply chain ambition

“Building a robust domestic supply chain will be critical to making sure that maximally the economic benefits of offshore wind development flow to the US,” Brown-Saracino said.

“We see an opportunity space with respect to moving from a situation where we’re developing floating platforms on a one-off basis to really designing for serial manufacturing for floating offshore wind platforms and doing so in a way that capitalises US manufacturing capabilities.”

The high cost of building new vessels is also hindering supply chain progress — Dominion Energy’s new wind turbine installation vessel cost $500 million, for example — but Brown-Saracino said there is funding in the DoE's Loan Programs Office that could be used.

Title XVII, for example, has $4.5 billion to use toward technologies that avoid or reduce carbon emissions, she noted.

Projects dealing with offshore wind can potentially find funding for foundation manufacturing facilities, dockside staging and laydown yards, blade manufacturing facilities for offshore wind turbines, and the construction of specialised vessels that will operate exclusively on US projects.

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