Aii Asks: Do you want more offshore wind energy?31 Aug 2020
Wind energy is often harnessed in large fields and land across the U.S. and around the world. What about offshore wind energy? What if we used the ocean and waterways to expand where we collect wind and take advantage of coastal winds? Would it be an eyesore or harm wildlife? Does the prospect of renewable energy make it worth it? What do you think?
Aii Asks: Do you want more offshore wind energy??
You answered: Yes.
Of those polled, 90 percent want to see more development of offshore wind energy, while 10 percent do not.
Before diving into the particulars of energy development, we should note our poll is a very small sample size of only a fraction of our audience. Further, people may vote for many different reasons, taking things into account like climate change, public versus private investment, environmental impact, and much more.
Here is some more context so you can decide if the U.S. should increase its development of offshore wind power.
Wind is a renewable resource and will never run out. That makes it immune to the type of scarcity that fossil fuels face. However, it still faces the constraints of other energy resources like materials to construct the wind turbine itself, space to put it, and so on.
The benefits of wind power are clear: harnessing free energy that never runs out! It also does not create emissions or pollutants in the air. Offshore wind power has further benefits, like stronger coastal winds and that the power generation is out of sight and does not take up valuable land or become an eyesore.
Some not so great aspects of wind power are that it is not as energy dense or powerful as fossil fuels. It may take hours of sustained wind to generate the same amount of energy as burning coal or natural gas for a shorter time. Along with this diluteness problem is the intermittency problem. That is, wind power only generates when the wind is blowing. Even off shore that is not always the case – although wind offshore tends to be more predictable and consistent. These two problems are why wind, solar, and other renewables require energy storage solutions. We need to be able to store excess energy during peak production to use later when energy is not being generated due to no sun or wind. For offshore generation, that power must then be transmitted to land.
The negatives cannot be overlooked. These include problems like materials needed and amount of energy needed to produce wind turbines and their blades – while the final product does not emit pollutants or greenhouse gasses, earlier in the process, that is certainly a concern. Further, when the lifecycle of a blade comes to its close, they usually find their way into landfills and other settings. Lastly, many are concerned that wind farms actually wreak havoc on wildlife and the environment, killing and disrupting endangered birds, bats, and their migration patterns.
All of the benefits and issues with wind power generation are tradeoffs. Due to innovation, many of the benefits are growing stronger by the day and the negatives being mitigated. The issue remains more nuanced than simply whether wind power sounds like a good idea or not.
Even once these costs and benefits are weighed, other considerations arise, like who should pay for it, how much public policy should favor or remain out of it, and how should property rights and permits be assessed off shore?
Fortunately, some of these can be answered by looking to other offshore energy projects like oil drilling and hydro power. Others remain in the realm of politics, colored by party affiliation, taxpayer considerations, and climate policy.