When I moved from Britain to the United States in 2006, offshore wind power was barely a blip on my home country's energy scene. Just 10 years later, however, Britain had more offshore wind energy than most of the rest of the world combined. The technology is moving so fast I can't guarantee this claim still stands. (But the fact they just green lighted the world's largest offshore wind farm — 1.8 GW — suggests they are not done yet!)
Now American renewable energy advocates are hoping for a similarly rapid rollout on this side of the Atlantic, and things do appear to be picking up speed. As reported earlier this week by USA Today, the U.S. is finally getting its first commercial scale offshore wind farm, with the 30-megawatt Block Island farm off the Rhode Island coast due to be connected to the grid in a matter of weeks. True, 30 MW is nothing compared to the huge gigawatt (1 GW = 1,0000 MW) sized installations that are becoming increasingly common in Europe, but the East Coast of the U.S. has incredible wind energy resources, and the relatively shallow seabed means the cost of installation could be considerably lower than it is in many parts of the world.
Favorable geography isn't the only reason to assume a rapid rollout could be possible. For one, offshore wind costs have plummeted since the U.K.'s big expansion effort more than a decade ago. A new offshore array in the Netherlands, for example, will apparently be selling energy for 87 euros/MWh, beating the industry's 2020 goal of 100 euros/MWh by four years and 13 percent!
It's also worth noting that the political winds (sorry!) have shifted. Between the Paris climate agreement, President Obama's Clean Power Plan, and increased enthusiasm for green energy among corporate buyers, there's a much more favorable climate for large-scale green energy development in the coming decade. Just recently the Department of the Interior announced a proposed lease sale for a 122,405-Acre Kitty Hawk Wind Energy Area, and not long before that both New York state and Massachusetts made significant policy moves to boost offshore wind.
True, nothing in life is guaranteed. And offshore wind remains a daunting undertaking, in terms of logistics, engineering and politics. Given that one presidential candidate has made it his personal mission to (unsuccessfully) fight offshore wind near his properties, it's not too hard to imagine scenarios where backsliding occurs.
Still, American offshore wind may be about to take off. And when it does, it could be big. In fact, one study has suggested that fully utilizing our offshore wind resources could create enough electricity to power the entire East Coast!