By Steve Dayney, Head of Offshore, North America, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy
Offshore wind originated in the early 1990s when the first project was installed off the shores of Denmark. Fast forward 30 years and offshore wind turbines have at last reached the shores of the United States. Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE) was at the forefront of the global offshore industry starting with that first 11-turbine Danish project, and now, with its successful installation of the first offshore wind project in federal U.S. waters, SGRE is poised and prepared to lead in the U.S. market.
Since 2011, the Coastal Virginia offshore project has been the gateway to something bigger, starting with Dominion Energy using this two-turbine pilot project as a steppingstone in the development of the entire lease area. In 2018, Dominion Energy and Ørsted selected Siemens Gamesa as the turbine supplier, and we’re nearing project commissioning. The development and installation of the Coastal Virginia pilot project provides significant learning opportunities for all parties involved as the first project located in federal U.S. waters.
Waters within three nautical miles of the coastline are regulated by the state, city or a local port authority. Federal waters extend seaward from three nautical miles along all state coastlines, with a few exceptions. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is responsible for energy development in federal waters and enforcement of regulations for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Renewable Energy Program. These regulations provide a framework for all activities needed to support production and transmission of energy from sources other than oil and natural gas. While Siemens Gamesa has a rich history and experience in offshore wind across the globe, learning to navigate and negotiate with BOEM early on has provided a crucial advantage at the start of a burgeoning industry.
Launching the first project in federal waters during the COVID-19 pandemic added additional layers of complexity for Coastal Virginia. As project components arrived in Halifax, Canada, to prepare for shipment to Virginia, unforeseen issues surfaced. The components arrived as planned on oceangoing freight vessels with special fastenings, with the need to be unloaded, tested and prepped before being transferred to the vessel used for installation purposes. To do this work in COVID-19 times, however, the team was faced with a choice of either securing an inexperienced Canadian crew or quarantining Siemens Gamesa technicians for two weeks, potentially causing a significant delay in project execution. Always putting health and safety first, the Siemens Gamesa crew was chosen, the quarantine requirement was met, work plans were reconfigured to minimize time in port and, after 14 days, the components and team were on their way to Virginia.
Although the 2020 global pandemic demonstrated to the world the impacts of a “pause” resulting from economic shutdowns and lessening of fossil fuel activity, this first U.S. Siemens Gamesa offshore project demonstrates the promise and resiliency of offshore wind, even in the most challenging of circumstances. When the environmental benefits of clean energy generated by offshore wind are added to the new industries, factories, jobs and careers that are necessary to support this industry, everyone wins. A “green recovery” applies not only to the natural environment, but also to fueling the economic engines associated with energy development, and generating new jobs in ancillary industries, such as marine vessels and revitalization of ports and harbors on the Eastern Seaboard.
The cost of renewable energy has fallen dramatically, and demand has increased, from utilities to corporate customers. Offshore wind is the answer to that demand. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 2,000 GW of capacity per year, nearly double the nation’s current electricity use. Even if only 1% of that potential is captured, nearly 6.5 million American homes could be powered by offshore wind energy within the next decade. The offshore wind industry is critical to meeting the demands, while contributing to a cleaner future and an economic recovery and revival that will transform our nation’s future energy generation resources mix.
From the project signing in 2018 to now, a lot has happened to advance the offshore wind industry in the United States. While the demonstration project is small, it sets Siemens Gamesa up for future success and growth. It also serves as a benchmark and learning opportunity for the larger 2.6-GW Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Commercial project. With more than 4 GW of conditional orders in its order pipeline, 2020 will be seen as a launching point for Siemens Gamesa’s offshore wind business in the United States. It also serves as visible evidence that the offshore wind industry is gaining significant momentum in the United States. With aggressive clean energy targets set in many states, offshore wind can be a major contributor to meeting those targets. Siemens Gamesa stands ready to deliver clean, renewable energy for generations to come.