Previously in this series...
As outlined in the introductory piece, the Herald is endeavoring to provide a layman’s digest of climate change issues which Cape May County faces. We are doing this, given the potential disproportionate impact climate change may have upon us here at the ocean’s edge.
For our part, we have established that global warming is real and exacerbated by human activity. We have examined what could happen globally if no effort is made to reverse course, as well as locally, with continued sea level rise, especially in the parts of our county which are most vulnerable.
We will begin to dissect different proposed solutions to curb global carbon emissions, starting with one we may see close to home in the very near future: wind energy.
As the science becomes increasingly indisputable that humans have contributed significantly to climate change through our activity, there has been increasing urgency to figure out ways we can adapt our means of consumption to reduce our output while maintaining our current lifestyle.
We will first study wind energy, a small piece of the proposed solution, but one that may impact our region more than any other.
In this article, we will examine what is known about the benefits of wind energy, saving the negative impacts of the transition for examination in our next article.
A Brief Overview
Offshore wind is becoming an increasing favorite amongst renewables and is the focus of largescale projects that are part of a global effort to convert from fossil-fuel based energy production to clean production.
A large wind farm off the Atlantic City coast is planned which will feature 99 of the largest turbines ever used, towering more than 800 feet over the ocean’s surface 15 miles from the coast.
The turbines would bring their power to the grid through two long cables buried beneath the ocean’s surface. One would connect to the grid in Cape May County at the old power plant in Beesley’s Point.
The farm, which has faced opposition, is projected to be operational in 2024 and power more than a half million homes.
Does Wind Energy Work?
While offshore wind is a new way of producing energy in the United States, it has been used for longer periods in parts of Europe, allowing us the benefit of some data and information to draw on.
The first offshore wind farm was built in 1991 near Denmark. Since 2010, the global cumulative offshore wind capacity has increased from around 3,000 megawatts to around 35,000 in 2020, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
Europe remains the global leader in this type of energy. The five biggest producing offshore wind farms are all in Europe and all were commissioned in the last four years.
China is also a leader in offshore wind energy and produces the second most energy capacity of any country, behind only the United Kingdom, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.
Wind energy has proved reliable and predictable in its young history. Offshore turbines are able to generate power at a more consistent rate than a land-based turbine or solar panels.
The United States and the State of New Jersey have each laid out ambitious plans to transition energy production from fossil fuels to renewables. Offshore wind energy accounts for a large portion of that transition.
But if, hypothetically, we were to make the transition to getting 100% of our energy from offshore wind, how much would that reduce the carbon output? Is it worth it to take on this major change?
How Much Carbon Output Are We Reducing?
The construction of wind turbines, including the production of the steel and concrete used to build them, is a process that creates carbon.
While there is some indisputable environmental negative in the construction phase, once things are up and running the net positive makes the installation worthwhile.
According to Bernstein Research, if you spread that initial carbon output from construction over the projected life of the turbine, offshore wind energy’s carbon footprint is 99% less than coal, 98% less than natural gas and even 75% less than solar.
Bernstein’s study estimates offshore wind emits 11 grams of carbon per kilowatt-hour of electricity generated. In contrast, coal emits 1,000 grams and 450 grams for natural gas. Even solar produces four times as much carbon, the research indicates.
According to cleanpower.org, wind energy eliminated 198 million metric tons of carbon emissions in 2019, the equivalent of taking 43 million cars off the road.
Why the Controversy?
Given what we know about the potential for wind energy to eliminate carbon output, which we have determined to be the main driver in climate change, it may seem odd that there is so much controversy and opposition, especially locally, to this transition.
So why is there so much skepticism? In our next article we will examine some of the potential downfalls of this particular renewable, including its high costs. Is it only cost competitive and practical because of government subsidies? Or is offshore wind energy really a cleaner, better future?