Offshore wind energy could power more electric vehicles than new offshore oil and gas combined

Making a comparison between miles-per-gallon of gasoline (MPG), natural gas miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe) and miles per kilowatt hour (MPkWh), shows the potential for offshore wind power to replace oil and natural gas in the transportation sector.

Nearly 99 percent of all US cars and trucks use oil as an energy source. Vehicles that operate from natural gas are commercially available and currently in use, although in limited numbers. Plugin hybrid-electric vehicles, like Chevrolet’s Volt, and completely electric vehicles, like Nissan’s Leaf and THINK’s City, will begin to be sold commercially in the US within the next year.

Tesla is already selling plug in electric cars with lithium ion batteries, and the electrification of the fleet is a key component of the needed transition to clean energy. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider the role that offshore resources might play in the transportation sector in the next decade or two.

Estimates of how many miles could be driven by fully utilizing each of the offshore energy resource available are provided in MPG, MPGe and MPkWh to compare the potential for each form of energy in terms of miles driven.

With an electrified car fleet, 127 gigawatts of offshore wind farm could power nearly twice as many electric vehicles as new offshore oil and gas development combined. According to MMS estimates, East Coast offshore oil resource could fuel approximately 16 million gasoline vehicles annually for 20 years, while the natural gas resource could fuel an estimated 41.3 million compressed natural gas cars over the same time.

In contrast, this analysis shows that the economically recoverable offshore wind resource on the East Coast could power approximately 112.5 million electric cars—about twice as many vehicles than the East Coast’s offshore oil and natural gas resources combined.

For comparison, DOE estimates that in 2010, there were about 227 million light-duty vehicles on the road in the United States.

Nissan, Chevrolet, Ford, Tesla and a variety of other companies are preparing to sell plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEV), or completely electric vehicles on an increasingly larger scale.

According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, if half of all light-duty vehicles are PHEV by 2050, gasoline consumption would decrease by between 35 billion and 53 billion gallons annually.

If this scenario takes place by 2050, by 2055, the United States will have conserved more gasoline in just those five years than the entire oil resource available off the East Coast. This figure doesn’t even begin to assess the savings that would occur between now and 2050.

As homes, heating and cars become more and more electrified, wind turbines will become even better able to displace oil use. Ultimately, it is this shift to clean energy and away from fossil fuels that will turn back the clock on climate change.

Offshore oil and gas drilling poses major risks to diverse economies, such as fishing and tourism, as well as to marine ecosystems, and it does so in exchange for few benefits. While the risks of spills are tremendous as we have seen in the Gulf of Mexico, the benefits of offshore oil and gas are small in comparison to lower risk alternatives such as offshore wind.

Investing in offshore wind power is therefore a more truly cost-effective approach to generating energy from the oceans. Since developing “all of the above” only increases the costs and delivery times for both wind and oil and gas, we recommend that the United States begin the transition away from offshore fossil fuel development by taking the following steps:

Eliminate federal subsidies for fossil fuels and redirect these funds to renewable energies and energy efficiency programs.

Stop all new offshore oil and gas drilling to prevent future spills and minimize competition for resources and expertise that will slow the development of offshore wind energy.

Require leasing of installation vessels for offshore wind turbine construction be given priority so that it is not impeded by offshore oil and natural gas development.

Renewable energy projects and manufacturers are more likely to proceed if there are consistent, predictable signals from governments and private markets to stimulate investments. Over the past several decades, onshore wind energy in the United States has periodically had access to tax benefits. Unfortunately, these have been short-term commitments, renewed annually, which provide inadequate assurance to those considering long-term investments.

When these renewals end, the industry will likely constrict. As a result, fewer planned projects have been completed than what might otherwise occur with a more consistent signal from the government.106 This boom-and-bust, year-to-year uncertainty harms the onshore wind industry and must not be allowed to extend offshore. In order to create a consistent and predictable environment for offshore wind energy, the United States must:

Increase and make permanent the tax credit for investment in advanced energy property outlined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009. This legislation extends the 30 percent credit for investment in qualified property used in a qualified advanced energy manufacturing project, but ends in 2012.107 In addition,, these tax credits should be extended to manufacturers of offshore wind turbine components and turbine installation vessels.

Increase and make permanent the Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program for opening, expanding or modernizing facilities to manufacture offshore wind turbine components and extend this program to turbine installation vessel manufacturing.

Use policy mechanisms that increase the long-term demand for and supply of renewable energies, such as a robust Renewable Electricity Standard or Feed-in Tariffs, Production and Investment Tax Credits, Loan Guarantee programs for renewable energy projects and technology manufacturers and training programs.

Accelerate the electrification of the transportation fleet through incentives to automobile manufacturers and purchasers and by building the needed infrastructure such as charging stations to allow maximal use of this new technology.