Domestic capabilities mean sector can be more than ‘European play in the US’ says adviser to interior secretary
by Julia Martinez in Houston
17 July 2018 Updated 17 July 2018
America has the domestic capabilities to underpin a “permanent, long-term” offshore wind sector that can be more than “a European play in the US”, said a senior advisor at the Department of the Interior.
Vincent DeVito, energy policy counselor to interior secretary Ryan Zinke, told an industry conference in Houston that displaced employees from the US oil & gas sector offer a ready-made skilled workforce for the fledgling offshore wind industry.
“We do have a lot of experience, which is my rebuttal to folks that are saying that we are way behind Europe in this particular sector. We are not,” DeVito told the event, hosted by Business Network for Offshore Wind.
“We are behind in the sense that we aren’t generating as many megawatts, but the technology and the capabilities are here and I believe we’re at a point to start deploying that and looking domestically to help this industry take hold on a permanent and long-term basis.”
DeVito underlined the Trump administration’s goodwill towards the offshore wind sector, already flagged by Zinke in an April speech in which he described it as a “God-given resource”.
DeVito said: “This is an economic opportunity that we have fully embraced as part of the all-of-the-above energy strategy. There’s nothing about this industry that we have been shying away from.”
He told delegates to the Houston conference that they should “participate and spread the word that this is just not a European play in the United States”.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) – controlled by the Department of the Interior – in April began gauging public interest on a proposal looking to expand offshore leasing areas on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. To date, the agency has issued 13 commercial leases from North Carolina to Massachusetts.
DeVito said he does not currently consider the offshore wind market to be mature enough for the type of area-wide sales seen for oil and gas exploration in the US Gulf of Mexico.
“We’re still trying to figure out how perhaps these lease sales can be structured in the future,” he said.
States hold the power to create the market from a demand perspective by adjusting their renewable portfolio standards, he said, incentivising the push for offshore wind.
“On top of that, there are jobs involved as well, and those huge turbines cannot economically be manufactured in Denmark and shipped here. They need to be manufactured here and supply our early-stage offshore wind industry on the Atlantic Coast because that then makes it much more economical,” DeVito said.
The offshore wind market in the US remains more developed in the north Atlantic, where shallow water depths of less than 60 metres makes it easier for companies to install fixed-bottom platforms. Demand in that region is exceeding the number of sites available for development, manager of offshore wind at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Walt Musial said, as states shift toward more renewable energy sources.
In order for the market to expand to deeper waters like those on the Pacific coast, Musial said the technology for floating platforms must mature and reduce costs.
“The auto industry didn’t invent the wheel, they just figured out how to get rid of the horse and put an engine on it. The wind industry didn’t invent floating platforms, you all did,” Musial said, speaking to those delegates from oil and gas backgrounds.
Knowledge transfer has to take place between both industries, he said, to get the market to the next stage of optimising systems that can be mass produced.
Arturo Rodriguez Tsouroukdissian, a manager working in the wind operation of Norwegian developer Equinor, added: “You need to leverage the existing supply chain that has been already developed either in offshore wind or in the oil and gas (industry), and that will be fundamental to lower the cost and standardise.”
Throughout the daylong meeting at the downtown aquarium, engineers and other industry players from both oil and gas and offshore wind also informally discussed current and future platform designs, mooring and anchoring issues, and challenges to serialisation.