The Impact of the Infrastructure Bill on Wind Power
The Biden-Harris infrastructure bill will affect the United States's current and future wind energy plans. The bill announces plans to expand the U.S. offshore wind energy programs by developing new floating offshore wind platforms. The President has established a goal of reducing the cost of floating offshore wind in deep waters to $45 per megawatt-hour by 2035.
The design will decrease the cost of creating these offshore wind turbines by more than 70% and utilize the wind available on the United States shorelines.
The Floating Offshore Wind Shot Initiative
Floating Offshore Wind Shot is an initiative to help usher in a clean energy future by driving US leadership in floating offshore wind design, development, and manufacturing.
Like any other large-scale program, the Floating Offshore Wind Shot has many goals and will affect the windmill and clean energy industry in several ways. However, two of the most prevalent effects of this infrastructure bill will be the production and installation of more wind turbines and, by effect, a more significant amount of clean energy generation for the United States.
President Joe Biden plans to have U.S. wind farms produce thirty gigawatts of energy by 2030. In terms of the number of wind turbines this will take, the U.S. will have to install around two thousand offshore wind turbines by 2030.
We currently have only seven offshore wind turbines across two offshore wind farms. While this may pose a challenge for manufacturers and industry experts, reaching Biden's goal of thirty gigawatts of energy would be enough to power more than ten million homes in the United States.
Where Are the Current United States Windmills?
Today, there are approximately 70,800 wind turbines across 44 states (and Puerto Rico and Guam) in the U.S. Wind Turbine Database. Texas produces more wind energy than any other state in the United States, followed by Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas.
Offshore Windmill Industry in the United States
New windmills produced with the help of this infrastructure bill will be offshore floating windmills.
A good portion of the Floating Offshore Wind Shot is working to help develop floating offshore wind technologies and scale up domestic manufacturing so that we can use all the potential wind energy along the coast of the United States.
The current potential areas to begin the development of offshore wind energy farms are in the Gulf of Mexico. But as offshore wind technology advances, there may be more wind farms along the East and West coasts of the United States.
The Power Generated by Windmills
According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the average wind turbine (that came online in 2020) would be able to power the average United States home for a whole month in just 46 minutes of generating electricity.
This estimate comes from two sources. First, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that the average U.S. home uses 893 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per month.
Second, the U.S. Wind Turbine Database estimates that the mean capacity of typical wind turbines that began operating commercially in 2020 is 2.75 megawatts (MW). USGS notes that an average wind turbine would generate over 843,000 kWh per month.
How Are Windmills Built?
A windmill consists of three essential parts: the tower, the nacelle, and the rotor and rotor blades. Despite being extremely large and powerful, the general construction of a windmill is straightforward due to the simple parts. However, constructing these machines is a long and tedious process with many challenges.
Essentially, the tower must be capable of withstanding and absorbing the static loads that depend on the wind's strength. Then, the nacelle (a solid, hollow shell) protects the windmill's inner workings, such as the gearbox and turbine. Finally, the rotor and rotor blades convert the wind energy into rotational mechanical movement and generate electricity.
The tower is steel, while the nacelle is fiberglass. The rotor blades are constructed similarly to an airplane wing and made from reinforced carbon-fiber plastic or glass fibers.
Who Builds Windmills?
Several companies build windmills. Some companies build windmills for global use, and other, smaller companies may only build wind turbines for use in their local area.
When it comes to windmills in the United States, three manufacturers have accounted for a large portion of the windmills that are currently functioning. These three companies are General Electric (GE), Vestas, and Siemens.
How Do Windmills Work?
While a windmill's internal working and mechanical processes are quite complex and take careful calibration and machining to function correctly, the general principle of a windmill is quite simple. I think of it as a reverse fan.
Rather than using electricity to make wind (like a fan does), a windmill uses wind to produce electricity. When the wind blows, it turns the windmill's blades around the rotor, which spins a generator and creates electricity.
In summary, the Floating Offshore Wind Shot is an all-government initiative led by the Department of Energy. The primary goals of this initiative are to develop cost-effective offshore wind technologies, scale up domestic manufacturing, support supply chain development, promote sustainable and clean energy, and foster economy-wide decarbonization in the United States.