Report: Offshore Wind Can Meet Up To 25% of U.S. Electricity Demand

UC Berkeley study shows technical potential and policy pathway for major offshore wind growth by 2050

Image: PixabayImage: Pixabay

The United States has one of the world’s most robust offshore wind resources and can develop enough offshore wind to provide up to 25% of the nation’s electricity supply, according to a new study released today by the University of California, Berkeley. The report “2035 and Beyond: Abundant, Affordable Offshore Wind Can Accelerate Our Clean Electricity Future” shows that over 4,000 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind potential is available along the U.S. coastline, including the Great Lakes, which could greatly complement our onshore resources such as solar and wind to help us achieve a 95% clean electricity grid by 2050 without substantially impacting wholesale electricity costs.With the right policy mix, offshore wind could supply between 10 to 25 percent of America’s electricity demand by 2050. 

In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, global carbon emissions must be halved by 2030 and reach near-zero by 2050. “2035 and Beyond” finds that increasing the offshore wind ambition, along with a significant increase in the solar and onshore wind resource deployment can achieve our net-zero emissions goals, while keeping the electricity prices affordable and the grid reliable. 

The study is accompanied by a policy report from Energy Innovation, a non-partisan think tank, showing the policy pathway needed to realize offshore wind’s potential as well as analysis on the supply chain and transmission needs and accompanying employment benefits. Increasing ambition for offshore wind development could inject up to $1.8 trillion of investment into the U.S. economy and employ approximately 390,000 workers in the sector in 2050. 

Additional key findings include:

  • Due to rapidly falling technology costs and robust incentives offered in the Inflation Reduction Act, offshore wind can provide 10-25% of total U.S. energy generation in 2050 without impacting wholesale electricity costs;
  • Offshore wind complements solar and land-based wind electricity generation by producing electricity during peak evening hours and peak winter and summer months.
  • A growing U.S. economy and increased electrification of buildings, transportation, and industry will lead to neartripling of the U.S. electricity demand, from 4,000 terawatt hours today to over 10,000 in 2050.  
  • The U.S. will need to install at least 85 GW of land-based wind and solar each year, as well as 27 GW of offshore wind between 2035-2050 in order to meet the increased electricity demand and reach net zero emissions in 2050. For comparison, the U.S installed 28 GW of wind and solar in 2021;
  • Significant national, regional and state policy support in the form of grants, financing, planning, and permitting approvals, coordinated across geographies, is needed to expand domestic manufacturing of components and associated supply chains.
  • The models excluded areas with military operations, existing infrastructure, and conservation areas.

“Offshore wind technology has astounding potential to form a major cornerstone of America’s electricity needs,” said Nikit Abhyankar, Senior Scientist at the University of California, Berkeley Center for Environmental Public Policy. “It should be realized as a key resource to meet U.S. climate goals, playing a complementary role to onshore renewable resources.”

“The technical ability to build out America’s offshore wind sector and enjoy all the benefits of clean, reliable, affordable electricity is there; we just need political leadership to pass the right policies, starting with much larger offshore wind commitments,” said Mike O’ Boyle, Senior Director of Electricity Policy at Energy Innovation. “Increasing our investment in U.S. ports, ship building, specialized steel manufacturing and transmission infrastructure are key to supporting offshore wind energy installation.”

“Offshore wind energy has gained significant momentum globally, and with falling technology costs, it’s time for the US to show our leadership to the rest of the world, said Umed Paliwal, Senior Scientist at the University of California, Berkeley Center for Environmental Public Policy.

The report is the third in the 2035 Report series which first analyzed how the US could deliver 90% clean electricity nationwide by 2035, and next at how all cars and trucks sold in the U.S. by 2035 can be powered by electricity.  

GridLab provided research and technical support for the 2035 and Beyond Report.  

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