Total Offshore Wind Capacity Grew by a Staggering 20 Percent in 2018

Alternative placement could offer a new means of delivering sustainable energy.

Total offshore wind capacity grew by a staggering 20 percent in 2018, to reach 23 gigawatts, according to a trade group whose annual report is a key metric of the industry’s growth.

The Global Wind Energy Council also announced on Tuesday that the industry installed 51.3 gigawatts of new capacity last year, which is 3.6 percent less than the previous year, but the figures also reveal a shifting industry that’s exploring new ways of delivering power.

Meanwhile, land-based wind power projects added 46.8 gigawatts of new capacity, a 3.9 percent annual decline, and offshore projects grew 0.5 percent to reach 4.49 gigawatts of new installations. The total installed wind capacity jumped 9.6 percent to reach 591 gigawatts worldwide.

Wind power is gradually adding new capacity, with one of its biggest growth areas in offshore projects away from land. Improvements in technology and better funding have put the wind in the sails of a source that could help humanity transition entirely to renewable energy.It’s a welcome boost for an energy source that could help the world transition to renewables.

Amory Lovins, co-founder of the energy nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute, told the New York Times in May 2018 that “we could run the whole [United States] east coast on offshore wind.”

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University found in October 2017 that ocean-based wind farms in the North Atlantic could actually meet all of humanity’s current energy needs, thanks to differences in temperature that make the winds move faster, plus a lack of buildings and other wind obstacles. The researchers found that ocean installations could collect around six watts per square meter even with seasonal variations, compared to 1.5 watts per square meter from a Kansas land wind farm.

One key area of research is moving beyond fixed base turbines, which RS Components notes can only stand in water up to 196 feet deep. The United States Department of Energy states around 60 percent of the country’s offshore wind resources are in places where such fixed bases are unsuitable.

Designers are exploring a number of alternatives to keep the turbines in place that will sort of float in the water, like the the three ideas you see below:

Three different ways to fix an offshore wind turbine.

Josh Bauer, NREL

These ideas are gradually making progress. The world’s first floating wind farm, the 30-megawatt five-turbine Hywind Scotland Pilot Park, managed to reach 65 percent of its maximum theoretical capacity at the end of 2017, its operator Statoil announced in October 2018. It’s an impressive feat, considering a regular offshore farm would reach between 45 and 60 percent capacity over the same period. The turbines use chains weighing 1,323 tons to stay fixed in waters measuring 328 feet deep.

Alongside these new developments, the price of offshore wind has been dropping: Data from the environmental firm Energy Innovation found in December 2018 that American offshore wind project costs have fallen 75 percent since 2014, in a comparison of a variety of contracts.

Mike O’Boyle, the firm’s director of energy policy, writes that “offshore wind has similar characteristics to solar power in the early 2010s, and wind power thirty years ago.” American solar energy residential prices have dropped from $6.65 per watt in 2010, to $2.89 per watt in 2018.

“Since 2014, the global wind industry has added more than 50 gigawatts of new capacity each year and we expect 55 gigawatts or more to be added each year until 2023,” Karin Ohlenforst, director of market intelligence at the Global Wind Energy Council, said in a statement. “In particular, the offshore market will grow on a global scale and will reach up to seven to eight gigawatts of new capacity during 2022 and 2023.”

The country-by-country breakdown shows China installed the most offshore capacity in a year for the first time, adding 1.8 gigawatts. The council predicts that installations in Asia could reach five gigawatts per year. The United Kingdom came in second with 1.3 gigawatts, while Germany reached third with 969 megawatts.

Top onshore markets in 2018:

  1. China – 21,200 MW
  2. USA – 7,588 MW
  3. Germany – 2,402 MW
  4. India – 2,191 MW
  5. Brazil – 1,939 MW
  6. France – 1,563 MW
  7. Mexico – 929 MW
  8. Sweden – 717 MW
  9. United Kingdom – 589 MW
  10. Canada – 566 MW

Top offshore markets in 2018:

  1. China – 1,800 MW
  2. United Kingdom – 1,312 MW
  3. Germany – 969 MW
  4. Belgium – 309 MW
  5. Denmark – 61 MW

The council predicts offshore wind installations in the United States will reach one gigawatt by around 2022. This goal could see assistance from the government: Ryan Zinke, who until January 2 was the interior secretary, said in an October 2018 offshore wind conference that “my job is to make sure the government is a partner with you…and I’m bullish on wind.”

The council plans to release the full report on April 3, holding a web-based seminar at 9 a.m. Eastern time.

Updated 2/27 11 a.m. Eastern time: An earlier version of this story misspelt the name of the Rocky Mountain Institute’s representative. It has now been corrected.