Numerologists, sharpen your pencils. Last year President Joe Biden pitched an offshore wind goal of 30 gigawatts by 2030 for the US. Now California has just chimed in with a 3-gigawatt goal of its own. In the meantime, the relatively small nation of Norway has just let slip word of a 30-gigawatt goal, too. Norway might be the most interesting case among the three, considering that it already has 34 gigawatts in hydropower under its belt. So, what gives?
Norway To Feed Offshore Wind Power To Energy-Hungry EU
Norway’s 30-gigawatt goal is significant from a few different angles, one of which is the nation’s remarkably high rate of electric vehicles in new car sales. If Norway keeps running along that track, it is going to need more clean kilowatts than its hydropower industry can support. Offshore wind could help fit the bill.
In addition, energy stakeholders in Norway are lobbying the nation to leverage its hydropower assets in support of a new domestic green ammonia industry. That could also open up more opportunities for offshore wind.
Nevertheless, another 30 gigawatts leaves plenty of wiggle room for other things, and apparently one of them is the export market.
Reuters was among the news organizations reporting Norway’s 30-gigawatt plans earlier this week. It cited a May 11 press conference held by Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, in which he stated that “a significant portion of the electricity [from offshore wind farms] will be exported to other countries.”
The timing is no coincidence. Norway has been chasing after wind power for the past few years, and now Europe is eager to ditch the accumulated baggage from its deal-with-the-devil fossil energy relationship with Russia. Norway is also eager to show the world that it can unwind its state-owned fossil energy operations, so it’s a win-win all around.
The Green Hydrogen Angle
Generating electricity from offshore wind turbines is a walk in the park these days, especially now that new floating turbine technology has expanded the field of potential sites. The sticky wicket for Norway is how to get an additional 30 gigawatts’ worth of electricity to points elsewhere in Europe. The nation’s transmission network is going to need a makeover to handle all that additional capacity, which will involve formidable technical challenges and plenty of cash, to boot.
That’s where the green hydrogen market could lend an assist. In his May 11 speech, Prime Minister Støre indicated that the emerging green hydrogen industry could provide a workaround for the transmission problem.
Hydrogen opens up alternative transportation options. Green hydrogen could be produced on site at offshore wind farms, then piped or shipped to domestic points of use on shore. From there it could be transported by truck or railway as well as pipelines. That could help conserve existing transmission capacity for exporting electricity from existing assets.
Potentially, Norway could also send its excess green hydrogen directly to Europe by ship, pipeline, truck, or railways.
US Goes From (Practically) Zero To Thirty
Some of this activity could boomerang on over to the US, which has been super-slow to exploits its offshore resources.
The Atlantic coast alone has a 22-gigawatt potential, but so far just a few turbines are currently operating off the coast of only two Atlantic states, Rhode Island and Virginia. All together they add up to a handful of megawatts, while other nations are piling on the gigawatts.
The Obama administration did try to coordinate offshore wind development along the Atlantic coast, only to be stymied by coastal state governors, among other objectors. Then, the Trump administration dug in its heels against the US offshore wind industry, which is no surprise considering the former President’s notorious distaste for wind turbines, especially those located out at sea.
Actually, there was a surprise. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is a branch of the US Department of the Interior, apparently did not get the Trump administration’s offshore wind memo. BOEM continued to work on offshore lease auctions throughout the Trump administration. BOEM also put the finishing touches on a first-of-its-kind process aimed at speeding up the offshore permitting process.
Also during the Trump administration, in 2019 the Interior Department convened the first meeting of the newly formed Global Offshore Wind Regulators Forum in New York, consisting of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Scotland, the United Kingdom, and the US.
In yet another twist, just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, BOEM signed onto a Netherlands-based green hydrogen plan that links offshore wind with the energy export market, which could become a blueprint for Norway, the US, and other nations.
California Sets A 3-Gigawatt Goal
By the time Trump lost the 2020 election (fair and square, for those of you keeping score at home), a slew of leading global energy stakeholders were ready to pounce on new lease opportunities in the US, and President Biden announced the 30-gigawatt plan just three months after taking office in 2021.
The plan sets a 2030 deadline in anticipation of more than $12 billion per year in capital investments, leading to the creation of 44,000 direct jobs and almost 33,000 related jobs.
That could just be the tip of the clean power iceberg. Proposals for green hydrogen hubs were already beginning to pop up in multiple states during the Trump administration, and that activity has also ramped up under Biden’s tenure.
California is among those states. The Southern California Gas Co. announced a proposal to develop “the nation’s largest green hydrogen energy infrastructure system” earlier this year. Under the name “Angeles Link,” the hub would spur additional wind and solar development.
That dovetails neatly with a draft report unveiled earlier this week by the State of California. The report anticipates meeting an initial 3-gigawatt goal by 2030 for offshore wind, with more to come by 2045. That calculation is based on new floating turbine technology, which enables turbines to deploy in waters that are too deep for conventional fixed-turbine construction.
Fans of battery-electric vehicles, don’t panic! The Angeles Link does not appear designed to replace battery-powered cars with hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, at least not to any great extent. The hub is aimed at green hydrogen’s strength as an industrial decarbonizer and a zero emission alternative for heavy-duty trucks and other non-car mobility devices.
To sum up: The technology for rapid decarbonization is here, now, and happening. The only thing left to do is for policy makers to stop making nice with fossil energy stakeholders, and set the wheels in motion for a quick pivot into a more sustainable global economy.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: Offshore wind turbines courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory (credit: Josh Bauer).
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