Chart: California’s big bet on offshore wind

The state has a goal to build 25 GW of offshore wind by 2045, most of it floating turbines — enough to provide 25% of its electricity.
By Maria Virginia Olano

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Canary Media’s chart of the week translates crucial data about the clean energy transition into a visual format.

California is gearing up to go big with offshore wind. Last month, the California Energy Commission set targets for building 2 to 5 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity along the state’s 840-mile coastline by 2030 and 25 GW by 2045. Considering that California now has no offshore wind at all, and the U.S. as a whole has just over 40 megawatts, those are ambitious goals — though some energy experts argue that they should be much higher still. 

California has massive potential to generate power offshore, but the seabed off the West Coast of the U.S. is particularly deep, which means that most offshore wind turbines in the region are expected to be floating models instead of the kind that are affixed to the seafloor. The chart above shows a scenario from energy system scientists at the University of California, Berkeley that would get the state to its goals with a gradual buildup of floating wind and a much smaller amount of capacity from fixed-bottom turbines.

The CEC is tasked with developing a roadmap to reach the state’s offshore wind goals by June 2023. There is still lots of work to do to stand up the first-of-its-kind renewable energy industry on the West Coast — from investing in our ports, workforce and transmission systems to updating our state’s procurement processes,” said Alex Jackson, director of the trade group American Clean Power–California, when the targets were announced.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced in July that it will hold first-ever lease sales for offshore wind in California later this year, which will include three lease areas offshore Morro Bay, on the central California coast, and two offshore Humboldt County in Northern California.

The Biden administration set a target last year for the U.S. to deploy 30 GW of offshore wind by 2030, which it said would unlock a pathway to 110 GW by 2050.” Currently, only two offshore wind projects are operational in the U.S. — one near Rhode Island and one near Virginia — with 42 MW of combined capacity. But East Coast states have a 35 GW pipeline of planned offshore wind projects at various phases of development.

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act will give a boost to offshore wind development. It includes an investment tax credit that will cover up to 30 percent of the cost of building offshore wind projects, plus other provisions that will bolster the offshore industry.

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Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.