The first offshore wind turbine in the U.S. was recently deployed off the coast of Maine. The pilot project uses a floating platform with a small wind turbine affixed to a tower. The project is a small, but significant step toward developing an abundant clean energy resource in the U.S.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster, sparked by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan last March, has led the Japanese government to embrace a safer energy source: offshore wind.
Japan seeks to expand its wind energy capacity and compete with European markets in the brand new field of floating offshore wind technology. The country plans to build a pilot floating wind farm with six 2-Megawatt turbines, and then scale up to 80 floating turbines off the Fukushima coast by 2020.
While offshore wind has begun to be used in Europe, to date, it has been dependent on shallow enough water to stabilize the foundation. There is currently an international race to develop floating offshore wind farms, which are the next big step in offshore wind energy as they will allow for offshore wind development even in deeper water.
Floating offshore wind designs are being field tested in the North Sea and Portugal. (Check out this video describing how one type of floating wind turbine is designed and deployed.) Floating wind farms consist of large floating structures that support a spinning turbine, the base of which can be tethered to the ocean floor.
It uses a ballast system to transfer water between pillars to keep the platform stable even in very high seas. The floating farms are assembled on land and then can be towed out to sea to be placed in deeper water locations that have stronger and steadier winds. The ability to place offshore wind farms into deeper waters along with their lack of concrete bases and increased mobility reduces their environmental impact while increasing their production of clean energy.
Japan has responded to the Fukushima disaster in the way that the U.S. should respond to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster – by aggressively pursuing safer, more environmentally friendly energy sources that will allow us to phase out the older and more dangerous ones.