Developing national offshore wind standards in the U.S.

A solid offshore wind industry offers great potential and benefit to the United States. In fact, according to the Department of Energy (DOE), if the country could develop 86 GW of offshore wind by 2050, it would create at least 120,000 jobs, cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 2.8%, and provide American with much-needed clean energy. The DOE is stepping up and putting money where its mouth is by offering $18.5 million in funding for an offshore wind research and development consortium that will conduct U.S.-specific research aimed at reducing costs.

Offshore wind development in the U.S.

The U.S. is preparing for large-scale offshore wind development. To clarify the requirements for developers and OEMs, an Offshore Wind Technical Advisory Panel is working on consensus-based offshore standards and guidelines that will help regulators adopt best industry practices.

The offshore industry still faces several cost-related challenges that may impede its progress. For example, the nascent industry lacks an efficient supply chain for project installation and O&M. Also missing are a deep-water-foundation models and solutions (such as floating foundations) along with safeguards against weather events such as Atlantic hurricanes. To succeed, the industry also requires a solid set of offshore standards.

“We have to create national standards that reflect a common language between developers, stakeholders, and all industry players to ensure best practices are followed at all stages of project development and deployment,” said Walter Musial, during a presentation at the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) Windpower Conference in New York in late fall. Musial is the principal engineer and the manager of Offshore Wind at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the only federal laboratory dedicated to research, development, and deployment of renewable energy.

“And I mean not just for the design and install of an offshore wind project, but we need standards that encompass siting, operations, construction, fabrications, manufacturing, testing, and so on — all the way through decommissioning,” he added.

In 2012, AWEA published its Offshore Compliance Recommended Practices (AWEA OCRP) that are based on existing standards (including from the International Electrotechnical Commission, International Organization for Standardization, and the American Petroleum Institute) and guidelines (from the American Bureau of Shipping and DNV GL). Although the AWEA recommended practices provides an early pathway for U.S. offshore wind development, Musial said more is needed.

“Granted, we already have the AWEA OCRP, which is a consensus-based roadmap to facilitate best practices in the industry. It refers to about 126 different written standards, and tells developers and the regulators which ones to review and what the best standards are for particular development applications,” he explained. “And it is a good starting point, but it is now five-years old and it fails to cover everything.”

A review of the existing offshore wind standards is currently underway. “This won’t be a re-write as much as an upgrade of critical information. We’re attempting to fill the gaps,” Musial said. “The objective is to develop a comprehensive set of consensus-based guidelines and standards that can be used to guide the safe and orderly deployment of offshore wind in the country. It will account for the unique offshore conditions in different regions of the U.S., and include input from regulators at the BOEM and state-level.”

By using the basic standards and regulatory process already in place, the NREL aims to collaborate with industry stakeholders to specify a complete set of standards. “Ideally, we want to make the regulatory process that exists right now more clear and efficient,” he said.

There are a couple of anticipated outcomes should this process prove successful. “We want to increase transparency to the public so that when an offshore project gets approved, there is some understanding of the development process and what happens next,” said Musial. “But we also want to give more confidence to regulators so that when they go to approve a project, they can be certain that a project’s design is safe and that it will meet up with current best practices.”

A clear and complete set of standards should also lead to shortened regulatory timelines. “If there is one set of guidelines to follow, it should create a kind of certainty in terms of the pathway to follow for approving and developing projects.”

There’s more. Current U.S. guidelines, including the AWEA OCRP, fail to cover practices for metocean (meteorology and oceanography), geotechnical issues, ice loading, breaking winds, and floating wind turbines.

“To address these issues, we’ve developed the Offshore Wind Technical Advisory Panel (OWTAP), supported by the NREL and Business Network for Offshore Wind,” he said. The Network is dedicated to delivering education, creating partnerships, and advancing the offshore wind industry in the U.S.

OWTAP will work below the AWEA Wind Standards Committee, which is already in place, and represent four sub-working groups with an aim of developing a set of national standards and guidelines for offshore wind that are recognized by ANSI, the American National Standards Institute.

The proposed sub-working groups are:

  1. Update of AWEA OCRP (Offshore Compliance Recommended Practices) 2012
  2. Geotechnical Data Requirements for U.S. Waters (seabed soil and geology for foundations)
  3. Metocean Data Requirements for U.S. Waters (wind, waves, currents, turbulence, vegetation, etc.)
  4. Floating Offshore Wind Turbines in U.S. Waters

“We are adding a fifth group to cover Electric Cable Risk, including the array cables and the export cable,” shared Musial. “We plan for one group of industry experts to focus on upgrades to the AWEA OCRP 2012, and another to deal with geotechnical data — which is completely absent from the original OCRP. A third group will learn how to best collect and use metocean data, and a final one will delve into floating structures, which just got its first commercial project in Scotland.”

The recently commissioned 30-MW Hyland Scotland project is the world’s first floating wind farm. Floating foundations can be installed in much deeper waters than conventional offshore wind farms.

OWTAP is expected to be a three-year process that includes collaboration between the NREL, the Network, AWEA, BOEM, and the DOE. “This initiative, thanks to industry-wide collaboration, will ultimately provide more clarity and set the U.S. offshore market on a pathway to cost-effective, commercial development,” said Musial.

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