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Get Excited: Tempering the Tempered Enthusiasm For Offshore Wind

University of Maryland report cites surmountable concerns for offshore development.

2 min read
Get Excited: Tempering the Tempered Enthusiasm For Offshore Wind

Sometimes it seems like the offshore wind industry in the United States consists entirely of reports. Resource estimates, predictions, warnings... but still, nary a turbine to be found. This research is needed, of course, but one can only hope that the researchers make sure their central messages point a way forward rather than simply make excuses for the lack of progress.

A new contribution to the offshore wind report genre does contain some enthusiasm, but also falls back on some old - and largely answered - questions regarding the energy source's potential. The University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Environmental Research released a report [PDF] on Maryland's offshore wind potential, and put two major concerns front and center: expensive transmission issues and potential interference with nearby radar systems.

Now, to their credit, a press release from the University does allow the report's authors to tout offshore wind as "economically feasible and environmentally advantageous." Also, they at least partially answer their own transmission questions with the recent announcement of the Google-backed transmission backbone plan for the Atlantic coast (some of the issues with which fellow Spectrum blogger Bill Sweet discussed well here).

The radar problem, though, shouldn't be considered such an important issue. I've discussed it here and elsewhere, but generally speaking wind turbine interference with radar is a somewhat archaic issue. Newer radar systems don't really have a problem with turbines at all, and even older ones can be upgraded to see through the windmill's interference without a ton of trouble. Perhaps the most publicized radar-wind confrontation, the Shepherd's Flat wind project in Oregon (the biggest in the US, when completed), was settled quietly soon after the issue was raised; the government is comfortable enough with the radar issues to offer a $1.3 billion loan guarantee to the project.

So some tired and answerable questions prompted a tempered "mixed bag" take-home from the Maryland report's authors, and they buried the good stuff: that offshore wind could significantly contribute to Maryland's renewable portfolio standard requiring 20 percent of electricity from renewables by 2022, and that the costs of siting turbines in deeper water - where the transmission backbone project will likely be built - are roughly similar to shallow water.

I'm all for realism when it comes to renewable energy, but a little enthusiasm for planet-saving technologies wouldn't hurt either.

The Conversation (0)
This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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