U.S. Offshore Wind Energy

Tyler Thorne
December 9, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2014


Fig. 1: Different water depths and technological developments necessary to install wind turbines unique to water depths. [1] (Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy)

Offshore wind energy is achieved among offshore wind turbines that harness energy through strong, yet consistent wind patterns over the ocean. This type of wind energy has several similarities to onshore wind energy resources, but is much more effective if utilized correctly. Countries across the world are starting to utilize the abundance of offshore wind for energy, and the United States is the next country in line to dominate this area. This exciting genre of wind energy has the potential to address and help improve three major issues: the energy supply, the environment, and the economy. [1] Although these are problems the United States faces currently, they are also problems that can be immediately aided with the help of such an efficient source of energy that offshore wind energy provides.


In order for offshore wind energy to reach its full potential, there is a need for advances in technology. Although technological strides are being made, and the funding is there, everything must be perfect before wind turbines can be distributed at the masses off shore. There are several problems that need to be addressed. First, the towers and base of the turbines must be strong enough to handle the waves and withstand corrosiveness from the sea spray. [1] Also, these wind facilities must be built uniquely to their location keeping different water depths and environmental aspects in mind. Although strides are being made, technological advancements that increase efficiency while keeping costs minimal are goals that must be achieved.


Although the future is bright for offshore wind resources, there are still problems that keep critics interested. Several popular concerns are current technology limitations, institutional uncertainties, environmental risks in the ocean, and the overall costs of building and maintaining wind turbines offshore. [1] Although these are realistic concerns, the commitment and focused research being devoted to offshore wind energy is promising to addressing these concerns. The biggest problem that needs to be addressed is figuring out how to build and maintain the turbines offshore while keeping costs minimal. Several complications include difficulty to work and perform maintenance at sea and the fact that operation costs are higher offshore than onshore because of access. [1] Because installment costs are higher offshore than onshore, critics are concerned that it will be tough to install and keep these turbines maintained further negating the need for offshore turbines when onshore turbines are easier to maintain and more cost efficient. [1] Although this may be true, offshore wind is abundant and the energy the winds produce would be optimal for coastal areas that could take full advantage of this clean and rich energy source.

Why Offshore Wind Energy

Fig. 2: Offshore wind speeds in the United States at 90-m height. [1] (Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy.)

Wind turbines, which are a popular source of wind energy onshore, are more efficient offshore due to these winds being abundant and stronger for the turbines. Furthermore, a great amount of the nation's population lives near the coast where these waters that present themselves as opportunities for offshore wind turbines are, which further provide a great opportunity to meet energy needs for these areas that wouldn't be available otherwise. Offshore wind energy turbines are not only good for increasing energy resources, but are also effective due to the fact that they contribute to keeping the nation's clean energy profile low due to the fact that wind power doesn't emit carbon dioxide or other pollution to the environment. [1] The abundant availability of this clean energy resource is exciting for the future of utilizing other energy resource opportunities in the United States. Other energy resources, such as fossil fuels, are harmful to the environment, and the availability of these other resources aren't abundant like those of offshore wind. [1] Offshore wind energy facilities provide many opportunities that aren't currently available, and could ultimately provide a wealth of energy across the country.

The Future

The first offshore wind energy project was installed in the waters of Denmark in 1991, which evoked offshore wind facilities to be built off the coasts of Europe and the United States. [1] Since then, the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Program has funded research to help employ offshore wind technologies that will help utilize these viable wind resources off the coasts of the U.S. to further use the offshore wind as a strong energy resource for the future. Significant funding has been given to help employ offshore wind energy to not only help get turbines in the water, but also to help improve the technology of them and the market acceleration that comes with them. The strides that have been made lately are promising for the future of offshore wind projects, along with the expanding allocation of energy across the United States in years to come. It is imperative that employing wind energy, specifically offshore wind energy, is a focus for the future. Deploying offshore wind resources along the coast and Great Lakes will help wind energy control a larger portion of electricity. If fact, if offshore wind projects are utilized correctly, it is predicted that wind energy will control 20% of all electricity by 2030. [1] Shallow waters, like those in the Atlantic, make development more attractive and economical for the future. By taking advantage of these potential hotbeds for energy, the United States ultimately could utilize this rich form of energy to compliment the other great resources already available. Offshore wind energy, if exploited correctly, will be the energy of the future.

© Tyler Thorne. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] W. Musial and B. Ram, "Large-Scale Offshore Wind Power in the United States," U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, NREL/TP-500-40745, September 2010.