Frequently overlooked by planners, the Gulf of Mexico offers opportunities for developing offshore wind generation in the US.
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has released a pair of reports, funded by BOEM, outlining the possibilities and hazards of this resource. It is not an ideal environment, but nevertheless has a bounty of energy that could be harvested.
The main disadvantage is the hurricanes that strike the area. The wind speeds are generally not high and the seabed tends to be soft. However the five states bordering the gulf, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, could reap the benefit of significant amounts of marine energy. The NREL identifies positive factors: shallow water, lower average wave heights, as well as existing oil and gas infrastructure, which would assist regional development.
508 GW of Offshore Wind Potential
The first study, “Offshore Renewable Energy Technologies in the Gulf of Mexico,” analyzed different offshore renewable energy technologies, including offshore wind, wave, tidal, ocean current, ocean-based solar, ocean thermal, deep water source cooling, and hydrogen conversion and transport, to determine which are best suited for electric utility-scale development in the Gulf. Offshore wind was found to offer a technically feasible resource potential of 508 gigawatts — the largest of any of the technologies analyzed, and twice the energy currently consumed in the Gulf states.
The second report looked in more detail at specific OW regions and sites. “Offshore Wind in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico: Regional Economic Modeling & Site-Specific Analyses”. In this study, NREL established selection criteria for hypothetical wind plant locations throughout the Gulf of Mexico and recommended to BOEM six viable study areas: Port Isabel, Galveston, and Port Arthur in Texas; Pensacola and Panama City in Florida; and New Orleans in Louisiana. Of these sites, Port Isabel, Port Arthur, and Pensacola were selected jointly by BOEM and NREL for a more detailed cost analysis to represent possible future offshore sites in the Gulf of Mexico. The study projected that costs will decline steadily over the next decade with some sites reaching the threshold of economic viability (market potential without subsidies) by 2030; but the assessment assumed that new technology adaptations for hurricanes and lower wind speeds would also be in place.
The analysis also indicated that a single offshore wind project could support approximately 4,470 jobs with $445 million in gross domestic product (GDP) during construction and an ongoing 150 jobs with $14 million GDP annually from operation and maintenance labor, materials, and services. These results were based on a 600-megawatt project at the Port Arthur reference site with a commercial operation date of 2030.
“As we seek to diversify the U.S. energy supply using ocean renewable resources, we are finding that the existing oil and gas industries in the Gulf are able to leverage their vast ocean-based capabilities to expand their businesses and capitalize on these new energy opportunities,” said Walt Musial, lead NREL author and researcher.
Specific Site Analysis
The report says, “There may also be significant cost benefits to help offset possible cost increases resulting from these challenges. These benefits may include better turbine access, shallow water siting, lower labor cost, and direct access to the existing industrial supply chains of the oil and gas industry. These benefits may lower capital costs, operation and maintenance costs, and the cost of fabrication and installation.”
The report analyzed which renewable energy technology was the most feasible for the GOM using resource adequacy, technology readiness, and cost competitiveness as the defining criteria. The renewable energy sources that were evaluated included offshore wind, solar photovoltaics (PV), tidal current, ocean thermal energy, wave energy, and ocean current. Offshore wind received the highest score based on these criteria, so should be the first type of renewable installed in the Gulf of Mexico.
The areas around Port Isabel, Port Arthur, and Pensacola are the most likely sites but states bordering the Gulf will be looking to lease other good wind locations to suitable projects.