This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.
The United States is finally joining the offshore wind farm club. This week, President Joe Biden signed off on the first major offshore wind farm in the US, to be located 12 miles out from Martha’s Vineyard. While countries, including Denmark and China, have invested heavily in this promising source of large-scale renewable energy, North American countries have been slow to follow suit. The US hopes to change this. The farm will produce 800 megawatts of energy, or enough wind energy to power 400,000 homes.
But offshore wind has its downsides, including an impact on sea life. Let’s look at some pros and cons of offshore wind energy, and why it’s a necessary step toward reaching the important goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The statistic above is the first big win here — large-scale offshore wind farms generate a lot of power. There is far more wind at sea than on land, allowing the farms to be much more productive than their land-based counterparts. The federal government hopes to install 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030. By the above calculations, one gigawatt can power about 480,000 homes (estimates tend to fall between 300,000 and 700,000, depending on whom you talk to). That’s about 14.4 million homes powered by offshore wind capacity alone, added to the 25 percent of our utility-scale power generation currency run by renewable sources in 2020, as noted by the US Energy Information Administration.
Add that number to the projected development of solar power in the US by 2030, and we’re well on our way to decarbonizing the energy sector by 2050. Solar power is expected to grow by 11.7 percent annually between now and 2030. When combined with wind power, hydroelectric power, and other sources like geothermal and biomass, that’s enough energy to turn renewables into the country’s primary source of power by 2030.
Not everyone is in support of offshore wind farms, though. According to BioMed Central, the primary environmental concerns surrounding offshore wind farms are noise, alterations to the surrounding habitat and feeding patterns of sea life, increased traffic and the resulting pollution, and the release of contaminants from seabed sediment. All of these are valid and foolish to overlook. It must be taken into account, however, that those impacted animals (and every other living being on Earth) would be far more severely impacted by the continuing rise in ocean temperatures and sea levels that would occur if we did nothing, or if the transition to renewable energy were slowed because we refused to harness the power of offshore wind.
In many coastal areas around the United States, sealife is already disturbed by the presence of offshore oil and gas drilling sites, and the potential for disaster is far higher at these sites than it is at offshore wind farms (remember Deepwater Horizon, the largest oil spill in history). We need the power, and replacing these rigs with wind farms would, over time, decrease the environmental impact on the oceans at large.
Cruise ships are also far more detrimental to sea life than offshore wind farms, as they spew nitrogen and phosphorus into the water, furthering algae blooms in coastal areas. That’s not to mention the burning of oil used to power these ships, nor the environmental impact of the disposable hospitality items used onboard.
Another complaint of offshore wind farms is purely aesthetic — they look like giants out in the water, ruining the views of beachgoers wishing to gaze out to the horizon. But we’re already looking at drilling rigs now — and when staring offshore, it’s a lot more inspiring to look at the future than at the past.
More climate wins
News of deforestation is common, particularly in the Amazon. We hear much less about reforestation. The BBC reported this week that over the past 20 years, forested land the size of France has naturally grown around the world. This forested land could soak up to 5.9 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually, more than what is emitted by the entire United States, the report found.
A startup in Maine is growing kelp, a type of seaweed, and storing it underneath the ocean floor, CNN reported. The hope is that the kelp will store massive amounts of carbon, adding a new natural tool to the global fight against climate change.
We close with a look at air and water transit. A new form of transportation takes passengers over water — literally — while emitting zero emissions. The seaglider, from Boston-based Regent, hovers just above the water. Its range is 180 miles, with zero emissions, and the seaglider could revolutionize on-water transport for short distances. Further north, Harbour Air is working to certify the first commercial electric plane, for use in northwest Canada, Elektrek reported. The eBeaver, as it’s known, takes off and lands on water and Harbour Air plans to have its entire fleet of short-haul planes electrified in 2022, making it the world’s first carbon-neutral airline.