With a considerable energy generation potential coupled with positive environmental and economic impacts, offshore wind power is currently at the centre stage of renewable energy initiatives and energy discourse.
Europe currently has 55 offshore wind farms across 10 countries that are capable of generating enough electricity to power 5 million households. China generates 565 MW of power from its offshore wind farms and it plans to increase this capacity by 5 GW in 2015 and by 30 GW in 2020.
In the United States, nonprofit ocean conservation and advocacy organization Oceana has promoted the construction of wind farms in the Atlantic, arguing that doing so would result in producing twice the energy of offshore oil and gas.
As a backgrounder, offshore wind farms take advantage of stronger wind speeds in open seas resulting in better power generation as compared to land-based wind farms. In addition, constructing wind farms in the middle of uninhabited bodies of water is less susceptible to property rights objections.
The most important benefit coming from offshore wind power is energy sustainability. Accordingly, Washington-based Environmental and Energy Institute enumerated key benefits including reduction in energy import, minimizing air pollution and emission of greenhouse gasses due to reduced fossil fuel consumption, and meeting renewable electricity standards.
Economic gains also tag along offshore wind power. Jose Manuel Barroso, president of European Commission, said: “Offshore wind is a strong asset in the European maritime economy. Employing 58,000 people in 2012, it is a promising industry with the potential to transform and decarbonize the electricity system. It can create considerable economic growth that benefits the whole of society as well as maritime regions and other maritime sectors.”
A side-by-side economic analysis conducted by Oceana suggests offshore wind power has more potential for creating sustainable jobs as compared to offshore drilling. The report added that economic dependence on oil and gas development in the Atlantic could put about 1.4 million people at risk of losing their jobs while also incurring an economic loss of $95 billion in gross domestic product. After all, offshore drilling threatens several economic activities that are dependent on healthy ocean ecosystems including fishing, tourism, and recreation.
Offshore wind power is nonetheless poised to become one of the biggest renewable power market segments by 2020 according to a report from research and consultancy firm GlobalData. The United Kingdom, German, and China will be at the forefront of this particular energy segment.
Pressing drawbacks currently stand as barriers to wind farm construction. These include high costs associated with infrastructure requirements, maintenance, and oversight. In addition, because this energy market segment is relatively new, lack of specialised workforce and technologies are hampering adaptation and growth. Photo credit: Luc Van Braekel/Adapted/Flickr/CC