Offshore Wind Is Booming Despite the Covid-19 Economic Crash

An offshore wind farm. More of these will be popping up soon.
An offshore wind farm. More of these will be popping up soon.
Photo: Christopher Furlong (Getty Images)

Globally, the covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on nearly every industry, including wind and solar energy. But there’s a bright spot: Offshore wind has been booming, according to a new report.

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The analysis, released by Bloomberg NEF on Monday, shows that investors poured $35 billion into new offshore wind projects in the first half of 2020. That’s more than 300% higher compared to the same period in 2019.

Those billions of dollars will fund the creation of 28 new offshore wind projects. That includes 17 new planned installations in China, which has the most projects on the docket. It also includes the 1.5-gigawatt Vattenfall Hollandse Zuid array off the coast of the Netherlands, which will cost nearly $4 billion to complete and be the largest offshore farm in the world.

Other renewable sectors, including onshore wind and solar, saw investment dwindle this year. But the uptick in offshore wind investment more than made up for those losses. All told, the report found that global investment in renewables capacity rose by 5% during the first half of 2020.

“We expected to see covid-19 affecting renewable energy investment in the first half, via delays in the financing process and to some auction programs,” Albert Cheung, head of analysis at BNEF, said in a statement. “There are signs of that in both solar and onshore wind, but the overall global figure has proved amazingly resilient, thanks to offshore wind.”

Tom Harries, who leads the wind research team at Bloomberg NEF, said offshore wind’s resilience didn’t surprise him. “A long business cycle has helped offshore wind developers ride the Covid-19 storm so far. Project schedules can soak up a few months of disruption — projects take years to develop, years to finance and years to build,” he told Earther in an email. “We expect little disruption to our global 2020 installation figure and longer-term we’ve increased our 2030 forecast by 3%, compared to our pre-covid figure.”

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China was a leader in renewable investments. The country poured $41.6 billion into renewable energy, which is an increase of 42% compared to the same period in 2019. “In China, the surge is linked to an expiring government support scheme next year, so projects need to start construction to be ready in time,” said Harries.

Europe, a leader in offshore wind energy, also saw growth in renewables overall—at $36.5 billion, the continent’s investment in renewables went up by 50% compared to the first half of 2019. But in contrast, the U.S. saw its renewable energy investments drop. The country put just $17.8 billion into sustainable energy, which is 30% lower than the same period in 2019.

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Considering the U.S. is the number one contributor to historical emissions of greenhouse gases, that’s pretty shameful. It has a ton of fossil-based energy sources it should be winding down as soon as possible and replacing with sustainable sources. While Europe has 105 offshore wind farms, the U.S. currently has just one in operation.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Americans shores have enough wind blowing to produce more than 2,000 gigawatts of power, or nearly double the nation’s current electricity use. The American Wind Energy Association also estimates offshore wind could create up to 83,000 jobs in the U.S. by 2030, which would come at an important time as unemployment levels are soaring. The U.S. should probably be stepping up its game.

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Update: 7/14/2020, 12:50 p.m. ET: This post has been updated to include comment from Harries and context from the American Wind Energy Association

Earther staff writer. Blogs about energy, animals, why we shouldn't trust the private sector to solve the climate crisis, etc. Has an essay in the 2021 book The World We Need.

DISCUSSION

dnapl
Dense non aqueous phase liquid

One way of pushing a new industry is to accentuate the positive. This would be the approach taken by some clean and green technology focused blogs. Another way would be to say, we totally suck because we’ve always sucked and it’s all fucked up. That would be another approach.

Anyway, despite US seemingly slow walking renewables deployment, we’ve done pretty well. This is with dogpiling and atomic wedgies by those not interested in renewables.

As far as wind goes, the US has been slow to deploy offshore wind. This is due to many reasons including engineering feasibility (efficacy, implementability and cost) and permitting. There’s also US politics ranging from environmental nonprofits to regulations pursuant to NEPA et al to regular good old fashioned obfuscation by some.

However, US wind power has and continues to pull its weight anchored in the soil of our great nation’s heartland. The heartland being the Great Plains and -where the cool people live - the Midwest. Fuck, I’m about to break into the Illinois state song.

Let’s compare US to EU (w/UK) and China up to 2017. The last tallied years, 2018 and 2019, aren’t available for all three. US 2019 wind power generation has increased about 15 to 20 percent since 2017. China and EU (from not full data) seem to be moving forward at a bit faster clip.

From EIA not IEA:

Not bad for a country that doesn’t have five year plans every five years.

eta: changed we’re to where before some pedantic prick noticed