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July 7, 2007 – Vol.12 No.15

RENEWABLES IN THE U.S. SOUTHEAST: IS OFFSHORE WIND POSSIBLE?

Should the US adopt a national renewable portfolio standard, utilities operating in some states may find it difficult to comply. Quite simply, the renewable resources may not be available from which to generate enough power to meet the specified percentage of renewable energy. Certainly, and to be fair, there would be loopholes in the law that would allow companies to avoid meeting the mandate if renewable resouces aren’t available.

One region in particular would have difficulty in compliance: the Southeast US, defined as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Florida. Generally speaking the region is sunny: It’s part of the Sun Belt after all, so solar energy is possible, if affordable. There’s plenty of agriculture so there’s lots of waste for biomass power and fuels. The cities in the South have grown enormously in recent decades, so methane from landfills and waste water could be tapped.

But forget about the most popular renewable technology: onshore wind. The southeast corner of the US just isn’t windy.

But that considers the land, not the coastline and adjacent waters - the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. There things pick up a bit, both literally and figuratively speaking.

Nearly all along the coastline - from South Carolina to Mississippi - wind resources are marginal (Class 2) according to US Department of Energy (DOE) maps. Yet the most common wind resource maps date back to the 1980’s when offshore wind hadn’t been invented . DOE documents, too, (on the Web) point out that coastline wind data was taken from both land and marine sources, not offshore where wind farms would be considered today. (Typically the farther offshore you go, the windier it gets and the more reliable it is.)

Further, on a state-by-state basis, DOE hasn’t completed or validated wind resource maps for the Southeastern states, onshore or offshore. (But DOE does recommend that specific sites be analyzed by professionals if wind resources look appealing.)

Of course wind resources are one thing, siting turbines is another. Factors needed for offshore wind farms include shallow waters in which to install wind turbines economically, a good grid connection, shorefront residents willing to tolerate wind turbines in their expansive, expensive ocean views and a lack of bird migration flyways.

(Floating, far offshore wind, to be tested in Norway is years away, and then only if things go well.)

Yet despite what appear on the map to be only marginal wind resources, at least one Southeast utility has taken offshore wind into consideration.

The Southern Company, an Atlanta, Georgia-based energy company with 4.3 million customers in the US Southeast, has taken a look at offshore wind prospects along its home state coast.

In a study performed by the Strategic Energy Institute (SEI) of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) offshore wind is possible in the state, particularly at least 5 miles out where wind speed averages 16-17 miles per hour (Good to Excellent, Class 4-5) and waters are still relatively shallow. There the researchers found two sites - off Jekyll Island and Tybee Island - with Tybee being less visible from the beach, wind resources slightly better and closer to industrial and maintenance resources.

The two-year study did find, of course, that for now offshore wind was still more expensive than conventional power generation. And that until Federal regulations are resolved regarding offshore wind research, offshore projects will be slow to get started.

Still, the Southern Company is upbeat saying it will continue to look into wind energy - on and offshore - to ensure that the company includes renewable power in its portfolio.

Visit the Southern Company at http://www.southerncompany.com Georgia Tech Strategic Energy Institute (SEI) http://www.energy.gatech.edu/ US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Wind Resource Assessment http://www.nrel.gov/wind/resource_assessment.html

 

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