While more than 3,000 offshore wind turbines push electricity to power-hungry Europeans, the number of towering turbines in U.S. waters is precisely zero. But that’s about to change.
The first U.S. offshore wind farm is slowly rising in the Atlantic Ocean south of the state of Rhode Island and east of New York’s Long Island. It could be up and running by the end of 2016, according to media reports.
The five-tower farm is small in scale and enormous in price: the $290 million project will provide energy to 1,000 year-round residents of a remote tourist stop called Block Island, where energy costs are extremely high because the island is more than 10 miles from the mainland. Developers of the project hope it will establish a toehold for offshore wind energy in the United States.
Once this project starts delivering power, it may be able to provide insights on economies of scale that will enable an industry to take root on the Eastern Seaboard. The relatively shallow Atlantic Shelf provides the only viable choice for the U.S. because the Pacific Shelf hugs the coastline and drops off sharply, making the waters are far too deep for wind farm development.
The large offshore wind farms of Europe rely on government subsidies and policies designed to push more and more European energy consumption into the green-energy sector, but such policies are far more rare in the United States. While investors have made wind turbines a common sight across the broad open plains of the nation’s interior, finding folks brave enough to try the untested waters of offshore wind energy in the U.S. another matter altogether.
High up-front costs, investor skepticism and lack of public-sector support equal slow going for offshore wind the U.S. Low fuel prices also are discouraging development of renewable energy sources. But eventually, hydrocarbon costs will rebound and make these kinds of projects more attractive.
The five towers of the Block Island project will be 600 feet high and designed to withstand a category 3 hurricane. Because the winds are stronger at higher altitudes and farther away from shore, wind farm developers have an incentive to build taller towers in ever-more-remote locations. The Block Island towers must be installed on platforms that sit on the seabed in several hundred feet of water — dramatically adding to the project’s costs. In the decades to come, floating platforms anchored to the seabed may provide a much more economical base for offshore wind energy projects.
Whatever the future holds, we’ll be providing the durable cable hardware that enables the offshore wind energy industry to transmit energy to people on land.
More on the Block Island project:
• First US Offshore Wind Energy Projects Could Deliver Jolt Of Momentum To Struggling Sector
• America’s First Offshore Wind Farm Quietly Takes Shape
Fundy Bay is famous for pictures of fishing boats tilted on their hulls — run aground by the immense power of the world’s largest tides.
The waters of this scenic coastal inlet along Canada’s Nova Scotia and New Brunswick provinces rise and fall by more than 50 feet twice a day, every day of the year. That predictability is one of the key reasons why green-energy researchers are fascinated with the potential of converting tidal movements into electricity. Solar power goes dark after sunset and wind power rises and falls with moving weather patterns. But tides rise and fall like clockwork, creating the potential for an extremely reliable stream of electric power.
The Trouble with Tidal Energy
Unfortunately, the ocean is one of the worst places on earth to install mechanical equipment. Saltwater is extremely corrosive, and working on machinery underwater is incredibly dangerous and expensive.
Some wave and tidal energy projects are mounting turbines on the sea floor. This keeps the turbines out of sight, which is a boon to coastal views, but it also dramatically increases the costs of upkeep precisely because they are so difficult to access.
Floating Platforms: A Tidal Energy Alternative
Fundy Bay’s epic tides have made it a hub for working out these kinds of challenges in wave and tidal energy research. One alternative researches are exploring is mounting a turbine beneath a floating platform that’s moored to the ocean floor via cables. A turbine connected to a floating platform could have all of its machinery easily accessible from the platform rather than mounted on the sea floor, where the only way to reach it is with scuba divers or remote-operated vehicles (or both).
In March 2016, a Canadian firm called Dynamic Systems Analysis (DSA) helped launch a floating research platform called EcoSPRAY that will document how highly turbulent tides work. This, in turn, will provide clues to the best ways to deploy floating tidal energy platforms that have been moored to the ocean floor.
The platform is operating in the Grand Passage between Freeport and Westport, Nova Scotia, in the Outer Bay of Fundy. Sensors on the EcoSPRAY will track wind speeds, tidal currents and wave actions. A drag plate mounted on the bottom of the platform will simulate the thrust of an underwater turbine, DSA says.
Protecting tidal ecosystems
While floating tidal power platforms would be less visually pleasing than turbines mounted on the sea floor, they have the potential to be less disruptive to underwater environments. Mounting an underwater turbine is a major construction project, whereas placing anchor points on the sea floor for mooring cables could be far less disruptive to the coastal environment.
Protecting that environment is very much on the minds of Fundy Bay researchers. Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy (FORCE), the Offshore Energy Research Association (OERA) and the Nova Scotia Department of Energy are all working together on a half-million-dollar program to determine the effects of tidal energy turbines this year.
This points to the future of wave and tidal energy, which may well depend on finding the best mix of high energy output, low cost and minimal impact on the subsea environment.
A trade association representing the subsea cable industry in the United Kingdom widened its focus in March 2016 to cover all of Europe.
The new European Subsea Cables Association (ESCA) takes the place of Subsea Cables UK. The trade group provides a forum for people who own, manage or service subsea telecommunication and power cables or serve the subsea cable industry in Europe and its surrounding waters.
ESCA’s prime goal is to encourage marine safety and help protect subsea cables from hazards such as fish nets, ship anchors and submarine landslides. The group also will defend the rights of operators to install and maintain underwater cable solutions.
“The requirement to form this new association has come from our membership and it was the logical evolution of the organization,” said Peter Jamieson of Virgin Media, chairman of the European Subsea Cables Association. “Close to 50 percent of the old UK association members were non-UK. Therefore, we can better serve our members by becoming a more regional association. ”
ESCA Executive Committee member Colin Rayman of Red Penguin Associates said that creation of the Europe-wide association will make it easer to confer with European maritime and fishing industry officials and government regulators “to move closer to attaining mutual understanding of our industries, sharing the seabed safely and maintaining the integrity of assets.”
The association will give its members advice and technical papers that will help everybody in the sector go about their business. Members of ESCA are experts in all phases of the subsea cable industry. They’ll convene bi-annually to share ideas and information.
If you’re in the submarine cable business, whether you’re an owner, operator, consultant, or subsea cable hardware supplier, you’re welcome to stop by the organization’s website at www.escaeu.org and download an application to join.
At PMI, we’re glad to see these people coming together to foster the health of the subsea cable industry across the European continent. Developments like tidal power and subsea power grids need consensus among business people and regulators to develop standards and hone technical expertise vital to the sector’s future.
As a premier provider of subsea cable hardware, we’re also on the front lines of Europe’s efforts to switch more of its energy consumption to renewable sources like wind power.
A new ship in the fleet of Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) suggests low oil prices haven’t closed the spigot of innovation in deep ocean engineering.
A naming ceremony in Nagasaki, Japan, in mid-March celebrated PGS’s acquisition of the Ramform Tethys, a new seismic data acquisition ship that’s brimming with the latest 3D and 4D technology for seismic projects that bounce sound waves off the sea floor to find untapped supplies of crude oil.
Built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Shipbuilding at a cost of $285 million, the Tethys is the third Ramform Titan-class vessel in the PGS fleet; the first two were finished in 2013-2014 and the fourth will come to sea in 2017. Titan-class ships have a distinctive triangular hull that’s 104 meters long and 70 meters wide at the stern — the widest hulls currently at sea, PGS says. The extra-wide stern looks a bit odd on the sea, but it has huge benefits for towing streams of sensor arrays and providing extra stability for the crews scanning the data pouring in from those arrays.
“The Ramform Tethys like her Ramform Titan-class sisters is well adapted to the prevailing economic environment,” PGS says on its website. “Her operational cost per streamer is the lowest around, while the resolution and reliability of the dual-sensor, broadband GeoStreamer data she produces is by far the best currently available.”
The Titan-class ships in the PGS fleet use an impressive amount of underwater cable hardware. The Tethys can carry 24 streamer reels: 16 reels aligned abreast and 8 reels further forward, with capacity for 12-kilometer streamers on each reel. That enables an array with hundreds of thousands of sensors spread over an area of 12 square kilometers — nearly 3,000 acres or more than triple the size of New York’s Central Park.
The new ship makes it faster and easier to deploy and retrieve cable hardware for subsea explorations. That allows surveys to be completed much sooner and ships to stay at sea longer in the calm times between ever-present storms on the high seas. That equals greater efficiencies that can be passed along to PGS clients.
“Productivity, safety, stability and redundancy are the key benefits of these vessels,” said Per Arild Reksnes, executive vice president for operations at PGS, which is based in Norway. “Their ability to tow many streamers gives high data quality with dense cross-line sampling and cost-efficient acquisition with wide tows.”
The Ramform Tethys has six engines producing 26.4 megawatts of power, and carries over 6,000 tons of fuel and equipment. The fact that companies are still buying ships of this size and complexity demonstrates that even with severe economic challenges across the oil sector, people will still see the wisdom of investing in better technology.
Discover how other Oil & Seismic companies are finding ways to save on fuel and cost in our Free Hydrodynamic Efficiency report.