What Are the Pros and Cons of Offshore Wind Power?

Expert views on offshore wind power varied widely, and experts debated the pros and cons of offshore wind relative to onshore. The positive points cited by experts included less visual impact, less impact on shipping lanes near coastlines, higher wind speeds, bigger projects, no NIMBY (“not in my backyard”) problems, proximity to coastal urban population centers, bigger project developers providing more credibility and investor security, more predictable wind patterns, scalability to very large size plants, and public relations value for oil companies and pension funds.

Many utilities are optimistic about the prospects for offshore wind power. For example, E.ON recently said that offshore wind has an "enormous potential for the future.” And RWE said: “Over the next few years, [onshore wind power] will be joined by enormous offshore wind farms that offer a number of advantages. Apart from greater [public] acceptance, winds in coastal areas and at sea are stronger and more persistent.” Iberdrola called offshore wind power “the second revolution in renewables.”

image thumb9 What Are the Pros and Cons of Offshore Wind Power?

Negative points cited by experts included higher costs than onshore wind and higher levels of policy support needed (feed-in tariff premiums). One expert said: “I don’t expect offshore to be competitive without policy support until at least 2025–2030,” and further said: “I doubt that offshore will ever be as cheap as onshore.” Another offered: “Offshore wind markets will really be a matter of government support for a long time. It’s not clear yet how to reduce offshore costs, since only one-third of the cost is the turbine.”

Utilities also point to the technical and logistics difficulties: “The stresses on the equipment from wind, waves, salt water and ice are also greater [than onshore]. It is also more difficult to perform installation and servicing work at sea, and the distance to the coast requires special rules for connection to the grid,” said Vattenfall. And “Huge challenges need to be overcome with regard to technology and materials,” said RWE.

Some experts framed the question of offshore wind development as a social or institutional issue. One asked: “Should policy promote offshore to avoid the problems of onshore wind power social acceptance and land use?” Another, however, criticized the diversion of investment resources away from onshore installations that could be more locally owned and controlled. “The only reason we are seeing offshore development is because big utilities like big centralized projects—and that’s not the right reason,” said the expert.


Source: REN21

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