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Offshore wind projects: unique opportunity or total folly?

The views on offshore wind projects are as divided as can be, so the slightly polemic title of this article is probably appropriate. There are some who argue that offshore wind is the way to go, and to go now. And there are others who argue that offshore wind is too expensive and too risky and that, anyway, there are sufficient onshore sites left that should be developed for wind energy first. As so often, both sides have valid points. This article will look at some of these.

Current Situation
Offshore wind has undergone an interesting development but one cannot say that it was a rapid development. After the first large and (truly far) offshore project at Horns Rev offshore wind project development appeared to be on good course. Germany and the UK identified huge potential for offshore projects in their waters and it appeared to be only a question of (little) time before the North Sea would be crawling with turbines. Alas, these high hopes were only partially met. The UK has, by now, almost 1GW offshore wind installed and another 2GW have been consented. Germany however, long thought to be the vanguard of offshore wind, like she was wind onshore, has not delivered. The first permit for an offshore project in Germany was issued in November 2001 but, to this day, not a single project has been built. In the meantime, Sweden, the Netherlands and Belgium have taken on the market and have installed numerous projects.

Today, over 800 turbines are operating in European waters, totalling just over 2GW in 38 wind farms in nine European countries. Almost 200 or 577 MW of these were installed in 2009 and a further 1GW is expected to be installed in 2010. So, clearly, the European market regards offshore wind as a very viable and profitable business.
The US has been a late comer to the offshore wind market. The most likely first offshore project in US waters, the Cap Wind project off the coast of Massachusetts, should commence construction soon, possibly later in 2010. Many states in the US also want to jump on the bandwagon. Almost every month, a State authority or utility issues a request for proposals. And these requests relate to both projects on the high seas as well as in the Great Lakes. With electricity prices in the US significantly lower than in Europe but costs for projects most likely be the same, these projects face formidable hurdles before they will be financed and built.


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