California to explore possibilities for offshore wind

June 9, 2016

For years, the Golden State has led the nation in energy efficiency, adopting innovative generation technologies and building best practices that have reduced energy demand across the board. This May, Governor Jerry Brown initiated a partnership that adds to our track record of commitment to alternative energy sources.

On May 31, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced the founding of a new team in conjunction with the State of California to evaluate potential opportunities for offshore renewable energy development along the Pacific Coast. The formation of this Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Task Force comes at the request of Gov. Brown, who outlined the potential program to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in a letter two weeks before the announcement.

While the task force itself will not have any decision-making power when it comes to implementing renewable energy systems, its role as a coordinator and facilitator will pave the way for local decision-makers who may be interested in pursuing renewable energy generation on their coastal sites. Although coastal land has gone relatively untapped to date, Governor Brown believes it is a massive resource Californian's should consider making use of. 

"There are significant offshore resources along most of California's coast that complement the profile of onshore solar resources," Governor Brown wrote in his letter to Secretary Jewell, reported BOEM. "New developments in offshore wind technology – such as larger facilities that are not visible from land and present little to no adverse avian impacts – will likely make projects more viable."

Such projects may include those like Trident Winds' proposed wind farm off Morro Bay. If built, the utility-scale structure would be located 34 miles offshore, according to the wind development company. That's far beyond what a person standing at the edge of the ocean could see, which is somewhere around 10-12 miles, depending on your height and the conditions that day. In fact, Discover Magazine reports that even atop a 30-story building, a person would only be able to see 21 miles. The Morro Bay project has still yet to be approved, however, as the company's request for a lease is currently under review by BOEM, reported reNews. 

Offshore wind generation projects are already underway throughout the EU and Asia. Offshore wind generation projects are already underway throughout the EU and Asia.

The appeal of offshore wind
When it comes to moving wind generation projects from land into the ocean, there's more than just location at play. In fact, as a resource, offshore wind can provide greater benefits than the onshore wind we currently harness for power, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. On the water, wind blows harder and more consistently than it does on land, where it can be interrupted by geography or manmade construction. Even a difference of a few miles per hour in velocity can have an exponential impact on the energy potential of wind, especially over long periods of time. Wind speeds off the Pacific Coast are among the fastest in the nation, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory making California's extensive shoreline an even greater resource. 

"Offshore wind projects have massive capacities for power generation."

With such a steady and strong stream of potential energy available as a resource, offshore wind projects have massive capacities for power generation. The U.S. has room on its coasts to produce four times as much power as the entire grid currently generates, according to an NREL report. As BOEM notes, even if just a tiny fraction of this capacity were developed, the results could be profound. 

Finally, part of the appeal of offsite wind is related to its location. The American population is concentrated heaviest along its coasts, which play host to some of the nation's largest cities. With such a disproportionate energy demand coming from these regions, it only makes sense we prioritize energy generation nearby. 

While there's no telling what the future of offshore energy production will look like in the United States, it's safe to assume California will once again be at the forefront of the innovation.