The Future of Offshore Wind Energy Wind Developers Overcoming Challenges, Expecting Major Growth

Offshore wind energy is still a young market, but signs point to continued growth. Globally, there are now nearly 19 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind installed, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). In 2017, a record-breaking 4,331 megawatts (MW) were installed, for 95 percent more than in 2016.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) forecasts that global offshore wind capacity will increase to 115 GW by 2030. Falling prices, increased investment, state targets, evolving technologies and other factors will likely contribute to this growth.

offshore wind energy. Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm Courtesy of SSE. Credit: chpv.co.uk/SSE/RWE

Expanding to New Markets

Europe has thus far led the way when it comes to offshore wind installations. At the end of 2017, just 11 European nations had 84 percent of the world’s offshore wind built off of their coasts. Other offshore wind markets are now expanding, however.

The United States’ first installation, the 30 MW Block Island Wind Farm, came online in 2016. The U.S. now has 28 projects with a total capacity of 23,735 MW in the works. Various states have set ambitious offshore wind installation targets.

Many other countries are also entering the offshore wind market or expanding their presences in it, from Australia to Brazil to Taiwan. China, which has 15 percent of the world’s capacity, is expected to overtake the United Kingdom for having the most installations by 2022.

Falling Prices

Offshore wind has recently hit several milestones regarding pricing. While prices are still higher than for some other energy resources, they have been falling and are expected to continue to do so.

According to GWEC, the prices for offshore projects expected to be completed within the next five years will be about half of those for the last five years.

Across Europe, prices are expected to fall 67 percent by 2025. In the United States, the per kilowatt-hour price for two projects planned for off the coast of Maryland was 65 percent lower than that of the nation’s first offshore wind project.

Prices are expected to continue falling, spurring growth in markets around the world.

Larger Turbines and Projects

Offshore wind turbines and projects have also been growing larger, meaning more capacity more quickly.

Wind turbines have been increasing in size. Currently, the world’s largest turbine has a rotor diameter of about 540 feet and a 9.5 MW generator. Turbines can now be built in water as deep as 200 feet. GE is also working on an even larger turbine that will have a rotor diameter of about 720 feet.

The overall size of projects is growing as well. The Netherlands is planning what would be the largest wind farm in the world in the North Sea. The project would produce 30 GW, or 48 times more than the world’s current largest farm.

New Approaches and Technologies

That project in the Netherlands will be so large that it will require a new approach to building wind capacity. The plan involves the construction of an artificial island 78 miles from the coast of England. This 1400-acre island would house the project’s conversion equipment.

Wind projects are also expanding into new areas, such as deeper ocean waters and freshwater lakes, which pose a challenge because they freeze during the winter months.

The 21.7 MW Icebreaker Wind Project in Lake Erie would be the first freshwater wind project in North America. If it’s successful, it could encourage developers to build more projects in fresh water.

In 2017, Norwegian oil company Statoil built the world’s first floating wind farm off the coast of Scotland. These new kinds of farms can be located in deeper waters and have a reduced environmental impact. California, Hawaii and Japan are reportedly being considered as sites for possible floating wind projects.

These developing technologies mean more potential sites for offshore wind in the future. As technology develops, prices fall and interest grows, offshore wind energy is poised to become a notable player in the world energy market.


Emily Folk is the editor of Conservation Folks. She writes on topics of sustainability, conservation and green technology.