Offshore wind is going to be a big part of our clean energy future, and if you like podcasts, you’ll really want to listen to Windfall, a mini series from Outside/In. Windfall follows the development of the US offshore wind energy from the ill-fated Cape Wind project up through the approval of Vineyard Wind. This is a great explainer for why the US is so far behind Europe and China in the offshore wind space.
One thing I really appreciated about the podcast was its nuanced take on some of the drawbacks of offshore wind while still showing it as an important climate solution. The ocean is a big place, but siting an offshore wind project in a way that promotes a just transition is no easy feat. Some areas contain indigenous cultural heritage (Cape Wind) while others impact fisherfolk who’ve been plying their trade for centuries (Vineyard Wind). Now that oil companies are fronting as clean energy pioneers, are we going to let them repeat the same injustices with a shiny green wrapper? The podcast stops short of offering answers.
I’ve mentioned before that offshore wind has the potential to be a great resource in a tidalpunk future, but that I wasn’t sure how to fit the billion dollar megaprojects into a *punk framework. Just after listening to Windfall, I found out that Denmark, one of the leaders in the offshore wind space, actually requires 20% of any new wind project to be community owned, and the Middelgrunden installation is actually 50% cooperatively owned. Scotland is another place where community ownership of renewables, including offshore wind, is revitalizing communities that had been in decline for decades.
Offshore wind will generate cheap, renewable energy a lot more consistently than land-based turbines, but we need to hold those building these facilities accountable so we don’t see a repeat of the injustices baked into our current energy system.
Do you know of other solutions to deploy renewables while avoiding handouts to the same old energy companies we love to hate? Share with us in the comments below!
Offshore wind is gearing up in the United States. The federal government has announced a goal of 30GW of offshore wind generation by 2030 and 110GW by 2050. For reference, the current largest wind turbine available generates 15MW, so it would take 2,000 of these turbines to reach the 2030 goal if that were the only turbine type used.
One bottleneck for getting these projects started is Wind Turbine Installation Vessels (WTIVs). The first European offshore wind installations started in the 90s, but existing European ships can’t be used because of the Jones Act which stipulates that vessels operating in US seas must be built, owned, and operated by US citizens or corporations. Dominion Energy’s Charybdis WTIV is under construction in New Orleans and should be operational in 2023.
The Coastal Virginia Offshore Wind Project isn’t the only offshore wind farm to be in development here in the US. After the failure of the Cape Wind Project in Massachussetts, offshore wind’s future was murky in the US. However, Maine appears to be the only state explicitly rejecting offshore wind, with new projects being planned on both coasts including New Jersey and California.
As mentioned previously, one problem I see with a lot of developments in tidalpunk-related tech is that so much of it is big money, high technology equipment that is difficult to build and procure without large governments and corporations. For instance, Dominion Energy has had a stranglehold on the state legislature in Virginia for decades due to their shady business and political practices. Offshore wind offers a big opportunity for cutting carbon emissions in the grid, but I’m wary of the lack of community control over these generation resources.
As I live in the US, this blog tends toward developments here. Do you have offshore wind in your area? Let us know about it in the comments!
As an engineer, I’m always thinking of how to make the objects around me work better. After rereading Cradle to Cradle this year, I’ve also been considering how to balance the needs of the present and the end of an object’s life.
When I was an undergrad, I did research in energy materials, so my interest was piqued when I saw the Volta Battery concept by Koraldo Kajanaku that won the Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge. Designed to be easily disassembled and made with materials that can easily be returned to technical or biological cycles, the battery is an excellent example of everyday objects that could be made better through thoughtful design.
The current ways in which we build batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines can’t get us all the way to a 100% renewable, solarpunk future. Elements such as the lithium used in cellphone batteries are rare and have some hurdles to true recyclability. Lead acid batteries, while more easily recycled, contain materials that are very hazardous to human health when not properly contained. Lithium batteries are an amazing technology, but we should be finding more readily recyclable alternatives for applications that don’t absolutely require the high energy density that a lithium chemistry affords. Aluminum, iron, nickel, and zinc could use a little more love when it comes to research and development. Nickel iron cells, for example, are likely the most robust chemistry available. They are quite heavy at the moment, but they might be one of the best options for grid backups since they don’t require the coddling that other technologies do. For the tidalpunks out there, you might want to check out ocean batteries.
More diversity of battery chemistries could lead to more energy democracy in energy storage. Communities could build the chemistry that uses the most local resources to back up their renewables. When paired with more sustainably designed windmills or solar thermal plants, we could do a lot more with a lot fewer rare earth minerals. Mechanical approaches to energy storage are also an attractive option. As is often the refrain with sustainable design, there is no silver bullet, we need many different solutions to fit the many different use-cases in existence. The 20th century was concerned with trying to shoehorn all our problems into a fossil fuel-shaped hole. The 21st will be defined by a diverse and beautiful ecosystem of solutions.
Is there an everyday object that you wish was designed more thoughtfully? Let us know below!
Tidalpunk takes the environmental consciousness and appropriate technology of solarpunk to the high seas. Sailing ships, autonomous seasteads, and cities flooded by the rising waters of climate change populate visions of a tidalpunk future. I suspect that due to the Moon’s influence on the tides, tidalpunk and lunarpunk will find some interesting synergies.
Return of the Sail
The shipping industry currently accounts for 2.3% of carbon emissions, and the industry is targeting a 50% reduction in emissions by 2050. Most cargo ships run on diesel now, but we once sailed the seas using the renewable power of the wind. While having a backup propulsion method available would be prudent, when the wind is blowing, cargo could move without the use of fossil fuels. Low Tech Magazine has written several articles about the potential of bringing back sailing ships as cargo vessels. Our current cargo fleet could even be retrofitted with tethered, kite-like sails.
Seasteading covers a variety of concepts for humans to make their home in the sea. Proponents of seasteading point to overcrowding and a lack of social innovation on land as reasons to move seaward. Some projects that could be considered under this umbrella are Sealand, various underwater habitats, and aircraft carriers.
Project Entropy is a solarpunk makerspace flotilla with the aim to address plastic waste in the ocean and convert it into useful objects. The self-described micronation is also experimenting with distributed governance while it expands the frontiers of distributed manufacturing. While the Seasteading Institute and Blue Frontiers have interesting visions of the future, Project Entropy is making it real right now. Another project already on the water is the Flipiflopi, a boat built entirely from plastic recovered from the ocean and roadsides in Kenya.
The SeaOrbiter science vessel is one of the most exciting projects happening in the space. Planned as a full-time, ocean-going science vessel, the SeaOrbiter will have on-board laboratories and allow extended observation of the ocean. Parts of the ship will be kept at higher pressure to allow scientists to dive more often than would be possible from a surface vessel due to decompression issues like the bends.
Venice is the most well known flooded city in the world, but rising seas will soon give the world a number of similar locales. Even Venice is preparing for rising floodwaters with the MOSE Project, a giant flood gate designed to mitigate the worst tides from the Adriatic. NOAA has built an Interactive Sea Level Rise Map to show what areas will be most impacted by different sea level rise scenarios. In the US, Miami is particularly vulnerable since it’s geology precludes a flood gate or wall system like MOSE.
Where to Start
If tidalpunk sounds like something you’d like to investigate further, here are some resources to check out:
Aquamanhas an environment-driven plot, cool tech, and lots of ocean.
SeaQuest DSV is an old TV show that is Star Trek in the ocean. Be warned, the third season takes a hard left into military scifi, but the first two seasons are definitely worth a watch. I take no responsibility if you immediately sign up to join the SeaOrbiter project after watching this show.
Jacques Cousteau has many books and films on the subject of ocean exploration. I’ve read The Silent World which tells the story of the invention of scuba and some of the early adventures the technology enabled.