California’s coming wind boom faces major technical hurdles

Research groups estimate that costs could drop from around US$200 per megawatt hour to between US$58 and US$120 by 2030. This would make floating offshore wind more expensive than solar and onshore wind, but it could still play an important role in an overall energy portfolio.

The technology is also improving. The turbines themselves are getting taller and taller, generating more power and revenue at each location. Some research groups and companies are also developing new types of floating platforms and delivery mechanisms that could make it easier to work within the confines of ports and bridges.

Denmark-based company Stiesdal has developed a modular floating platform with a keel that only locks in deep sea, allowing it to be towed from relatively shallow ports.

Meanwhile, San Francisco startup Aikido Technologies is developing a way to transport turbines horizontally and then turn them upside down in the deep sea so the structures can duck under bridges en route. The company believes its designs give developers enough freedom to access any US port. About 80% of these ports have height restrictions due to bridges or airport restrictions.

A number of federal, state, and local organizations are conducting evaluations of California and other US ports to assess which are best suited for floating wind projects and what upgrades might be needed to make them possible.

Government policies in the US, European Union, China and elsewhere also provide incentives for the development of offshore wind turbines, domestic manufacturing and supporting infrastructure. These include the Inflation Reduction Act that Biden signed into law this summer.

Finally, regarding California’s permitting challenges, Hochschild notes that the same 2021 law that will require the state Energy Commission to set offshore wind targets also requires it to conduct the long-term planning needed to meet those targets. This includes developing a strategy to streamline the approval process.

For all the promise of floating wind, there’s no question that ensuring its cost competitiveness and meeting its aspired goals will require massive investment in infrastructure, manufacturing and more, as well as building large projects at a pace the state hasn’t shown in the recent past able to.

If successful, however, California could become a leading player in a critical new clean energy sector and use its vast coastal resources to meet its ambitious climate goals.

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