Wind is the world's fastest growing renewable power source. With businesses around the globe competing to help countries meet their energy goals, wind turbine technology has been progressing at a hasty rate. The annual growth rate of wind power capacity has averaged at 25% in the last 5 years. Running out of viable land, coastal areas are looking to the world's oceans to continue growing their wind capacity.
Offshore wind farms are fast becoming a standard for renewable energy plans around the world. Pioneered by the UK, Europe accounted for 88% of the world's offshore wind installations in 2016. China, Japan, and the US are pushing to follow suit - making offshore wind farms a $57.2 billion dollar industry in the next five years.
Offshore wind farms allow countries to free up their land and outsource their energy needs to the vast oceans. Previously thought too expensive, massive leaps in designs and technologies has brought the price of installation and turbines down to compete with onshore wind farms. There are currently over 1500 offshore wind farm projects around the world. Danish company Ørsted is planning a 1-gigawatt project off the shore of California while TenneT is planning a 30-gigawatt farm that could power 5 countries by 2027.
Offshore wind farms will have a massive effect on our power grid. They will help the world achieve it's renewable energy goals - perhaps even faster than anticipated. As a relatively new technology, research around the environmental impacts of offshore wind is still in the initial phases. In the US, the Navy has expressed concern regarding a wind-farm impacting their operations, and has released a map, blocking off areas that were to begin construction.
Meanwhile, over 2,300 jobs will be created by the Hornsea project, which is expected to power around 1 million British homes. After a wind turbine project was dropped in the US, residents expressed disappointment - pointing out that offshore wind turbines have been shown to increase tourism and job opportunities.
The most worrying impact of offshore wind farms, is an environmental one. Most farms use piles - a type of fixed concrete pillar - to support the base of the wind turbine. This means drilling and hammering into the seabed, causing temporary or permanent damage to the surrounding sea life' hearing abilities and vibrations sensors. Most concerns are centered around the construction phase of the projects and not their long lasting effects. Birds are a particular problem for land based wind farms, but studies agree that the data is insufficient to conclude the impact on marine birds. Conservationists are rallying for funding to help predict the current impact of these farms and the long-term effects on migration patterns.
As for potential long-term damages, researchers are mostly in the dark. There is a growing consensus that the rocks around the base of the windmills - placed to prevent corrosion - actually help sea life thrive. A study on crabs in Swedish waters shows that the rocks provide shelter from predators, attracting and hosting sea creatures. In turn this drew in more predators and helped the area develop a healthy eco-system. Some researchers claim that the farms will offer a sheltering effect - protecting marine life in the area from fishing and shipping traffic. In time, these ocean farms could help grow artificial coral reefs and begin reversing the negative impacts humans have had on the ocean.
Offshore wind farms are a solid cornerstone in the future of renewable energy. They will help create jobs and uplift the communities around them. Europe, the UK and even the US are investing heavily in offshore wind projects capable of supplying millions of gigawatts. There has been little quantifiable research on the environmental concerns. As the industry progresses, any negative impacts will be swiftly addressed by companies protecting their billion dollar investments. Offshore wind farms will help pave the way towards a healthier planet and a cleaner energy grid.
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