The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) released a report on January 23rd stating that the U.S. goal of generating 30 Gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind power by 2030 will create nearly 50,000 new American jobs, provided that major upgrades in ports and shipyards are achieved.

The NREL report A Supply Chain Road Map for Offshore Wind in the United States projected as many as “10,000 full-time equivalent jobs in major-component manufacturing facilities by 2030 with up to 5 times as many opportunities for supplier jobs, all of which would span the country.”

The report noted: “A domestic supply chain that can supply 4–6 GW of projects per year will likely require an investment of at least $22 billion in ports, large installation vessels, and manufacturing facilities.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy “1 GW is a measure of power and there are 1 billion watts in 1 GW.” It is estimated that 1 GW could power 725,000 homes.

The NREL document explained the challenges and opportunities: “The offshore wind energy industry in the United States has been gaining momentum for several years as the project pipeline has expanded, states have established procurement targets, and initial investments have been made in ports and manufacturing facilities. These efforts helped lead to the Biden administration’s announcement of a national offshore wind energy target to install 30 gigawatts (GW) by 2030. This announcement not only characterized deployment goals but also identified the need for a domestic supply chain, local workforce, and energy and environmental justice as part of a new offshore wind industry. There is widespread agreement that a domestic supply chain will be critical for the sustainable growth of offshore wind energy in the United States; however, there is a general uncertainty about the scope of such a supply chain, the development time frames needed to build critical resources, the level of investment required, the potential benefits that will be available to local communities and workers, and the significance of gaps in existing manufacturing, port, vessel, or workforce infrastructure on deployment targets.”

Dr. Habib Dagher, executive director Advanced Structures & Composites Center at the University of Maine, told AJOT that the NREL report provides the most current roadmap for what will be required to build an offshore wind industry in the United States: “There is a significant national will right now to do this on the part of the current (Biden) administration and at both the federal and at many state administrations.”

Dagher said that passage of the Biden Administration’s Inflation Reduction Act has also played a crucial role in supporting new development of offshore wind power: “It's a major investment including tax incentives for renewables. For example, having a 30%, tax benefit, for renewable projects that would utilize U.S. materials and the supply chain. Another 10% is for utilizing U.S. labor and …. try to incentivize and utilize U.S. manufacturing and U.S. labor. This will help reduce the cost to the consumers and create jobs. It's a historic act.”

Dr. Habib Dagher, executive director Advanced Structures & Composites Center at the University of Maine

Dagher also praised Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announcement that it will streamline the process for federal permit approvals for offshore wind farms: “The effort … to streamline … the federal permitting processes will shrink the timeframes … making sure that we are still protecting the environment, the ecology and other users (including) the fisheries of the ocean.”

Dagher is a pioneer in the U.S. offshore wind industry. Ten years ago, he led a team that deployed the Volturn US wind turbine prototype, the first grid-connected offshore wind turbine in the United States. Success of the technology led to over 40 patents, a further $150 million investment from the U.S. Department of Energy and a partnership with two offshore wind developers.

The report referenced “the potential benefits of establishing a domestic supply chain, including providing existing suppliers with the ability to produce thousands of components, while creating tens of thousands of U.S. jobs.”

The effort “will require a significant ramp-up in domestic manufacturing, ports, vessels, and workforce, all of which are currently too limited to support the needed levels of commercial-scale offshore wind energy deployment.”

This supply chain could be developed in 6–9 years. Additional development will likely be required after 2030 as floating offshore wind energy becomes more prevalent.

However limited port and vessel infrastructure could delay projects: “Half of the U.S. offshore wind energy projects in the pipeline are at risk of being delayed beyond 2030 because of limited port and vessel infrastructure. This risk could be addressed with around $6 billion of investment in new/expanded ports and vessels.

Required Resources to Deploy 30 GW of Offshore Wind Energy by 2030

The reported noted the following resources required:

• 2,100 wind turbines

• 2,100 foundations

• 6,800 miles of cable

• 58 crew transfer vessels

• 4–6 wind turbine installation vessels

• 11 service operation vessels

• 4 cable laying vessels

• 2 Scour protection installation vessels

• 4–8 transport vessels

• 4–6 heavy lift vessels

• 12,300–49,000 full-time jobs

Component Challenges

The research team identified subcomponents that pose a challenge to domestic component manufacturing, including:

• Yaw and pitch bearings

• Permanent magnets

• Flanges and other large cast or forged components

• Steel plates that are rolled into monopiles or towers

• Electrical systems for offshore substations

• Mooring chains.

Investments By 2030

The necessary investments for 30 gigawatts of offshore power include:

• $3.5 billion for wind turbines

• $1.3 billion for substructures

• $1.8 billion for electrical components

• $3.5 billion installation vessels

• $8 billion ports

• $3 billion for steel plates

• $1.3 billion for other components

Component Imports

The United States will need to import many components but could ramp up domestic manufacturing to ease foreign dependency to meet the goal of 30 GW of offshore wind: Domestically manufactured components can be cost competitive with imported components, but the United States will still need to import components to meet the 30-GW target as the domestic supply chain ramps up.

A domestic supply chain could create 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs in major-component manufacturing facilities by 2030 with up to 5 times as many opportunities for supplier jobs, all of which would span the country.

Many ongoing supply chain activities are considering energy justice principles. Expanding these considerations could help to maximize benefits and minimize harm to host communities for supply chain resources.

The project was overseen by the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium and conducted by a partnership among NREL, the Business Network for Offshore Wind, and DNV. Funding and support were provided by the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium, the Maryland Energy Administration, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Business Network for Offshore Wind hailed the report’s publication noting: “The report estimates the investment amount the U.S. supply chain could require this decade to meet an annual demand for components, ports, and vessels in 2030…These key investments would reduce risk of delays due to global supply chain bottlenecks and create a robust network of assets that will continue to be effective well beyond 2030.”