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Offshore Wind Energy Could Generate Enough Electricity to Power the World. Will the U.S. Get on Board?

The International Energy Agency predicted offshore wind will be a $1 trillion industry by 2040

Sunrise over the Lincs Offshore Wind Farm off the coast of Lincolnshire this morning, the start of the meteorological autumnSeasonal weather, Skegness, UK - 01 Sep 2017

Sunrise over the Lincs Offshore Wind Farm off the coast of Lincolnshire, U.K.

Rob Arnold/Lnp/Shutterstock

Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted a boom in renewable energy, forecasting the power capacity for renewable sources will increase 50 percent over the next five years. One of the most fertile settings for an explosion in renewable power, the IEA revealed in a study released days later, is off the world’s coastlines — specifically less than 37 miles off coastlines where the water is less than 60 meters deep. Wind farms constructed in these regions could potentially generate 36,000 terawatt hours of renewable electricity a year, the study found, well above the current global demand of 23,000 terawatt hours.

“Offshore wind currently provides just 0.3% of global power generation, but its potential is vast,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol said in a statement.

So vast is the potential for offshore wind energy that the IEA predicts that by 2040 the industry will be 15 times larger than it is currently, and that it will garner $1 trillion in investment. The forthcoming boom is due to lowering costs and technological developments like larger turbines and turbines that float. If the potential for floating turbines is realized, offshore wind energy could generate 11 times the global demand for electricity by 2040, the study found.

The growth is being led primarily by Europe and China. The IEA predicts offshore wind capacity in the E.U. could jump from 20 gigawatts to close to 130 gigawatts between now and 2040, and possibly even higher if certain wind-friendly policies are enacted. China currently produces 4 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity, but by 2040 the total could skyrocket to 110 gigawatts, and the IEA slates China to eclipse the United Kingdom as the nation with the largest “fleet” of offshore turbines by 2025.

The United States, by contrast, can only claim a single offshore wind farm located off the coast of Rhode Island, and it features only five turbines. Growth is being upheld as the Trump administration reviews the potential impact of proposed additional offshore wind farms. “We’ve seen maybe a speed bump, which creates a little bit of uncertainty but that’s following four or five years of very, very positive development,” Thomas Brostrøm, CEO of the Danish company Ørsted, which operates the wind farm off Rhode Island and is looking to build more turbines off the Atlantic coast, told Axios. “And obviously this is way too big to fail. We’re looking at $70 billion to be invested over the next 10 years.”

One thing that’s certain is that President Trump isn’t likely to expedite the process. Trump has repeatedly bashed wind energy, even falsely claiming turbines cause cancer. His antipathy toward the ripe potential source of renewable energy likely stems from a legal dispute over the planned construction of an offshore wind farm off the coast of Scotland, which the president argued would ruin the view from one of his golf properties. Trump sued the town responsible, but to no avail. Construction of the offshore farm was completed last year.

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