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.

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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

Staff writer, Earther

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DISCUSSION

A big question to follow up on would be WHY the U.S. is lagging behind on offshore wind.

NIMBY has contributed some, if I recall correctly. “The windmills will disturb the ocean views of the rich!” got pushed into stopping projects that wouldn’t be seen from shore, again, if I recall correctly.