Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

5 Stats About Offshore Wind Power That'll Blow You Away

By Maxx Chatsko – Sep 4, 2018 at 7:09AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

The next-generation renewable-energy industry isn't much to write home about today, but it's poised to capture tens of billions of dollars in investment in the next decade.

In terms of installed capacity, onshore wind power outnumbers its coastal peer 26 to 1. Yet despite having just 19,000 megawatts operating globally, many countries and companies are turning to offshore wind power as a critical source of next-generation renewable energy. From the skyscraper-sized turbines developed by General Electric (GE 2.06%) to the impressive resource potential of the United States, here are five incredible stats about offshore wind power.

1. The United States could achieve 79,016% growth by 2030.

Today the United States boasts just 30 megawatts of offshore wind-power capacity, but the sleepy industry might soon awaken. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates the country's current pipeline of projects at 23,735 megawatts. That remarkable amount of potential is contained within just 28 projects in nine states, led by Massachusetts, New Jersey, and North Carolina.

Of course, the current pipeline includes projects in various stages of planning, and some may never become a commercial reality. For instance, the tally includes a potential project in Virginia owned by Dominion Energy (D -1.77%). The project is about to install its first 12 megawatts' worth of turbines, which will be used to collect data that will influence a final investment decision on a future buildout to 2,000 megawatts. While the latter number is what's included in the DOE pipeline, it still goes to show that companies are taking the opportunity very seriously after years of avoiding the energy source.

Three offshore wind turbines in the distance.

Image source: Getty Images.

2. 23,735 megawatts is a lot, but it barely scratches the surface.

The sudden rush to site, plan, and possibly develop massive offshore wind projects comes on the heels of newer technology, better financing, and increasing international know-how (mainly held by European companies) that is accelerating offshore wind power's run down the cost curve. Experience and data gained from the first couple dozen projects will go a long way to informing the next wave of projects. It could be huge.

The DOE estimates that the United States boasts a technical resource potential -- the amount of projects that realistically can be installed after accounting for factors such as land-use exclusions, technology, and operating efficiency -- of 2,058,000 megawatts of offshore wind power capable of generating 7,203 terawatt-hours of electricity per year. That's almost double the country's total annual electricity consumption. And it doesn't even include what Alaska brings to the party, which is a cool 12,087 terawatt-hours per year all by itself. 

Considering most major cities are located near a coast or Great Lake, offshore wind power could prove crucial to America's clean-energy future and efforts to expand its industrial footprint.

An energy-efficient light bulb among several older-generation bulbs on a table.

Image source: Getty Images.

3. Offshore wind power is one of the most efficient power sources.

Coastal areas experience a higher average wind speed across the course of a year than areas farther inland. That and the tendency for offshore wind turbines to be much larger than their onshore counterparts allows offshore wind farms to compete fairly well against most any other power source when ranked by capacity factor, or how often a power source operates at full capacity. Here's how major power sources performed in the United States in 2017 compared to 2013: 

Power Source

Average Capacity Factor, 2017

Average Capacity Factor, 2013




Natural gas, combined cycle






Onshore wind



Solar photovoltaic



Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The data show increasing uprates at nuclear power plants (capacity factor trending up), more idle time for America's coal fleet (capacity factor trending down), rising dependence on natural gas (capacity factor trending up), and improving technology for solar and onshore wind (on pace to average 40% in 2018) boosting the average operating efficiency for each. Turns out, offshore wind power might beat everything except nuclear, with the latest technology delivering capacity factors that exceed 60%. That could help it to make up for a slow start and lower costs at a faster rate than other renewable technologies.

The Hywind Scotland project, owned and developed by oil major Equinor (EQNR 0.06%), demonstrated 65% operating efficiency in its first three months of operation. The company, formerly known as Statoil, is attempting to leverage its experience operating oil and gas platforms in the rough waters of the North Sea to exploit the emerging opportunity in offshore wind power. It owns projects across Europe, may soon power its offshore oil platforms with wind power, and is developing a 1,000-megawatt project off the coast of Long Island, New York.

Looking up at skyscrapers in a city.

Image source: Getty Images.

4. General Electric plans to go big. Really big.

General Electric has fallen a bit behind its European peers in the market, likely because, until recently, it offered only one size of offshore wind turbine: the Haliade 6-megawatt. By comparison, Siemens (SIEGY -0.18%) offers three different sizes up to an 8-megawatt turbine, while Vestas also dangles multiple sizes in front of customers. So the American industrial conglomerate went out and did something about it.

In March 2018, General Electric unveiled the Haliade 12-megawatt turbine. It's an absolute monster. Each turbine is 853 feet tall, boasts three blades that are 351 feet long apiece, can generate enough electricity to power 6,223 American homes for an entire year, and promises a capacity factor of 63%. While there are practical reasons to think it may be too large to be a commercial success, the company is hoping to target wind farms far enough offshore that the skyscraper-sized beasts won't be an issue. Investors will have to wait and see how many orders are received between now and 2021, when the first turbines are expected to ship.

A drawing of a big fish eating many smaller fish.

Image source: Getty Images.

5. Siemens owns a dominating 70% market share.

One big reason for General Electric's bold bet on gargantuan turbines being the future of the industry is Siemens' continued dominance of the global offshore wind market. Siemens has installed approximately 11,000 megawatts to date, handing it more than 70% market share, according to internal estimates. Its current 1,700-megawatt backlog is also the world's largest. But the company isn't resting on its laurels.

Siemens is investing in and positioning itself for a step-change to a new technology platform by 2020. That likely includes some design changes -- and perhaps larger turbines, although 12 megawatts seems unlikely -- to accommodate the needs of next-generation offshore projects. It may prove difficult to dislodge the company from atop the global leaderboard.

That's because of a close relationship with leading offshore wind developer Ørsted, which Siemens has partnered with on more than 2,700 megawatts of projects since 2013. They're currently working together on Dominion Energy's massive 2,000-megawatt project off the coast of Virginia and, considering that many American companies will be inclined to turn to Ørsted for its valuable expertise that domestic companies lack, it may be difficult for other wind turbine developers to elbow their way into the early market.

Offshore wind power could arrive overnight

While it has long lagged behind growth projections, offshore wind power finally appears ready to live up to its potential. There's still a long way to go, and it will be years before electricity costs are competitive with those of its onshore peer, but all new technologies have to begin somewhere. Given the potential and sudden inflows of capital, investors may be surprised how quickly offshore wind power runs down the cost curve. Best to prepare your portfolio for the emerging opportunity.

Maxx Chatsko has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.