By John Hugh DeMastri
Offshore wind turbines — a key component of President Joe Biden’s push for more renewable energy — are facing significant hurdles in both maintenance and construction as the industry continues to grow their size, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.
These massive turbines, the next generation of which are expected to be more than 900 feet tall and generate 15 megawatts (MW) of electricity — enough to power a small town — suffer from a far greater rate of component failure than their smaller counterparts, the WSJ reported, citing data from renewable energy insurer GCube. While smaller turbines on the scale of 4 to 8 megawatts tend to have failures after five years in service, larger turbines typically see failures after just one year.
“As the turbines get bigger — and the tax credits make it profitable for them to build bigger and bigger turbines — maintenance will be more dangerous and expensive, requiring larger equipment to be moved around at higher heights,” Dan Kish, senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “We are talking about hubs at twice the height of the Statue of Liberty … and the huge blades make that higher.”
In addition to maintenance concerns, which GCube CEO Fraser McLachlan told the WSJ would “compound” as the size of projects increase, supply chain and construction issues also increase as the industry chases larger turbines. Roughly 55% of all claims on large turbines occurred during their construction, which has helped increase the average insurance claim size from $1.25 million in 2012 to more than $7 million in 2023, GCube told the outlet.
Wind turbines are expensive to construct compared to other forms of green energy, incentivizing manufacturers to build the largest possible turbines, allowing individual turbines to generate more electricity and therefore keep costs down for consumers, according to E&E News. The aggressive drive to make larger turbines has caused growing pains in the industry, as manufacturers need to continuously change and modify their supply chains, introducing inefficiencies.
President Joe Biden has set a target for the U.S. to generate 30 gigawatts (each gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts) of power from offshore wind by 2030, with a long-term goal of generating 110 GW by 2050, E&E reported. Hitting this goal would require more than $22 billion in supply chain investments, and the industry’s ongoing push for larger and larger turbines makes long-term supply chain certainty more difficult.
Shipbuilders, for example, face uncertainty in designing the vessels needed to install and construct larger turbines, E&E News reported. While smaller vessels are cheaper to produce, they are still large and take time to construct, meaning investors could be stuck with a ship that is too small by the time it can work.
The Biden administration took credit in February for roughly $9.8 billion in public and private offshore wind investment since the president took office.
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