It's almost time for the Winter Olympics, and one of the great stories ahead of the games is the qualification of the Jamaica's bobsled team. This is a unlikely story of a team using heart, will, technology -- and even crowdfunding -- to get to Sochi. At the end of the day, the Jamaicans may not win a medal during these Olympic Games, but they deserve to be there, and this is something I believe correlates well with my views toward the need for wider acceptance of offshore wind here in the U.S.
It's actually pretty amazing to think that the U.S. doesn't have offshore wind power, especially considering the success this energy source has had overseas. Yet the wake-up call climate change has brought to our towns, cities, and states in recent years has only amplified the need for a more complete energy solution to mitigate reliance on antiquated energy infrastructure and power supplies.
This has blown some strong winds into the sails of the argument to move forward with offshore wind right here in the U.S., especially since many of the proposed development sites are extremely close in geography to some of the country's largest areas for electricity consumption. So like the Jamaican bobsled team, offshore wind does deserves to compete. But, why?
New simulation software -- cleanweb technology -- has improved turbine designs so they can withstand greater wear and tear over time from the impact of waves and wind. New designs are also being considered for better efficiency such as a 2-blade systems (i.e. China's Envision Energy) over 3-blades. 2-blade systems are more aerodynamic, employ lighter designs, require fewer resources to build and will lower production costs while actually boosting energy capture potential. Another design gaining attention is the Windlens project in Japan, which features a curved ring around the rotator blades to boost energy generated.
One thing is for sure, the evolution of lighter, stronger rare earth minerals will find their way into future offshore wind designs to help with durability and weight reduction, and that should make offshore wind more economically competitive with traditional onshore sources of power. Additionally, Pittsburgh-based Bayer Material Science is working on chemical coatings to lower the expected ice buildup on the turbine blades in the colder Lake Erie location.
The University of Maine also plans to deploy the turbines on spar buoys, which collect vital geographic suitability data to reduce overall project costs through the use of laser beams, light detection and ranging systems. This system is know as LIDAR and was created by the university in partnership with Renewable NRG Systems, AWS Truepower, Leosphere SAS, and the Physical Oceanography Group.
Another technological advancement related to weather is the Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT ) Wind Tracer. The Wind Tracer will be used for the Atlantic City, NJ, project, and it will incorporate the first commercial use of the world's strongest long-range weather radar.
Other key players in U.S. offshore wind development to watch are Statoil North America, a division of Statoil (NYSE: STO ) , in Connecticut, Virginia Electric Power through Dominion Power in Virginia, and Siemens (NYSE: SI ) in Lake Erie.
At the end of the day, offshore wind is very promising, and with the evolution of energy storage, this power source will not only be competitive, but I'm expecting it to be a real medal contender; something even an underdog like the Jamaican bobsled team can be someday.
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