California considers 3 GW of offshore wind by 2030 as experts stress need for clean energy diversity

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Dive Brief:

  • California energy regulators are considering a preliminary planning goal of 3 GW of offshore wind by 2030, and somewhere between 10 GW and 15 GW by 2045, according to a draft report released Friday by the California Energy Commission.
  • Environmental advocates are thrilled with the draft goals, according to Laura Deehan, state director for Environment California. Ambitious offshore wind targets are a key way to send a signal to investors and the labor market and give them the confidence needed to make investments in the industry early on, she added.
  • Meanwhile, separate research released on Monday by Energy Innovation, GridLab and Telos Energy found that California can reliably achieve 85% clean electricity by the end of the decade, and that diverse clean resources – including offshore wind – will be helpful to doing so.

Dive Insight:

This month, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced that it had completed its environmental review of possible offshore wind leasing activities off the state’s northern coast, and found that developing offshore wind would have no significant impact in the Humboldt wind leasing area. 

Last year, California lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 525, which directed the CEC to, among other things, establish offshore wind planning goals for the state for 2030 and 2045. The legislation also requires the agency to develop a strategic plan for offshore wind resources in federal waters off the West Coast, and submit this plan to the legislature and the California Natural Resources Agency by mid-2023.

The CEC’s draft report is a first stab at meeting these requirements. The agency noted that it is still in the process of identifying suitable sea space in federal waters to accommodate offshore wind, which could result in changes to the outlined planning goals. For the purpose of completing the strategic plan, however, the agency’s draft report would establish a preliminary planning goal of 3 GW by 2030, and 10 GW to 15 GW by 2045. Noting that the offshore wind industry could see technology developments and associated decreases in costs by that point, the draft report also suggests the potential for a larger planning goal, of up to 20 GW, between 2045 and 2050. 

Some of the windiest coastal areas in the country are located off the coast of California, but the state’s offshore wind market is only just getting started, Deehan noted. By setting ambitious goals early on, the state can realize that potential much faster, she added.

At the same time, the offshore wind industry faces its own share of challenges, especially when it comes to supply chains, according to Deehan. The best turbines for offshore wind are large ones, because they produce the most energy with the least impact and minimal footprint, she added. Building these turbines “is going to be a really big challenge which feels top of mind right now, given all our current supply chain challenges we’re experiencing in the state and in the world,” she said.

Experts, meanwhile, are also emphasizing the importance of ensuring that California has a diverse clean energy portfolio. 

On Monday, Energy Innovation, GridLab and Telos Energy released new research, including a technical analysis evaluating whether California can achieve an 85% clean electricity target by 2030, as well as a companion policy report. The state’s Senate Bill 100, passed in 2018, includes a target to reach 60% renewable energy by the end of the decade.

The analysis found that California has multiple pathways to reach that 85% target, primarily through wind and solar generation and battery storage. However, diverse clean energy resources – for instance, offshore wind and geothermal resources – can reduce dependence on gas generation and help meet higher levels of power demand as the state also moves towards electrifying different sectors of its economy, the report noted. 

There are two main benefits to a portfolio with diverse clean energy resources, Priya Sreedharan, technical report co-author and program director at GridLab, said: supporting reliability and renewable deployment feasibility.

“Diverse resources help to get a better matching between demand and supply,” she said, adding that offshore wind was a big contributor to that diversity in the analysis.

California is currently facing challenges around renewable energy supply chains and project development – another example of the risk of relying on only one kind or a smaller number of power resources can pose, according to Michael O’Boyle, director of electricity policy for Energy Innovation and co-author of the policy report.

“It just highlights for me a benefit of thinking about diversity as a strategy, to make sure that risk in one area is offset by deployment of another kind of technology,” he said. 

Diverse clean energy resources are a key, and even essential, ingredient to ensuring a low-cost, reliable grid going forward, agreed Peter Miller, Western region director for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s climate and clean energy program. In the past, he noted, the grid was largely a bunch of coal and gas plants that could be turned on and off when needed.

“Now we’ve got a grid that’s dependent on these intermittent resources with different generation profiles – and by incorporating a diverse array of different resources, we’re able to assemble a reliable grid… and deal with the increasingly extreme weather conditions that we’re seeing more and more,” Miller added. 

California, for instance, has a large amount of solar energy – but as the sun goes down in the evenings, net demand increases across the state.

“That’s why offshore wind offers a really promising opportunity, with a late afternoon, early evening load profile that nicely matches solar,” Miller said. 

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