The Potential for Offshore Wind Farms in California

In order to take advantage of the many benefits of wind power, it is important to first identify which regions could viably harness the technology. Without a clear picture of the extent of wind resources it would be impossible to know their potential impact on the grid, and therefore, the environment. Dvorak et al. (2009) modeled the average wind speeds off the coast of California to measure the total available offshore wind power for the state. Remarkably, 17–31% of California’s electricity demand could be met using current offshore turbine technology. Factoring in floating turbines (which are still in prototype stages, but could be constructed in deeper waters) offshore wind power could provide 174–224% of the state’s energy needs. Clearly, not all of this energy capacity can be harnessed; however, there is still an enormous renewable energy resource to be developed off the coast of California. — Noah Proser 
Dvorak, M.J., Archer, C.L., Jacobson, M.Z., 2009. California offshore wind energy potential. Renewable Energy 35, 1244–1254.

 In order to measure the total wind power available, Dvorak et al. used data from offshore buoys to create a weather model. Unfortunately, data from the buoys could not be used directly since there are too few to create a useful map of wind speed; however, when the buoy data were compared to the weather model the variance between the two was relatively low. The researchers also examined bathymetry (water depth) data to determine the type of turbine foundation that could be constructed in each area. Typically, monopile foundations can be used in waters up to 20 m in depth; multi-leg foundations are used up to 50 m in depth, and floating turbines would be used in deeper waters.
Though the authors discounted the power available in deeper waters somewhat, floating turbine technology will soon be a reality. Currently, a 2.3 MW floating turbine is operating in the North Sea off the coast of Norway. As more research is conducted on this technology, the wind resources available to California and many other coastal states will greatly increase.
Overall, California has an abundant wind power resource that should not be ignored. The offshore wind capacity in Northern California is particularly impressive, potentially providing 2.2 GW of average output. Furthermore, offshore wind is relatively consistent throughout the day unlike land-based wind power. Though only a fraction of this resource is likely to be utilized, it can still have a substantial impact on California’s energy independence and greenhouse gas emissions.

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