Canada falls behind global growth of offshore wind energy

A new report from British-based research firm GlobalData says offshore wind power will continue its dramatic expansion for the rest of this decade.

Power produced from turbines located in oceans grew from less than one gigawatt in 2006 to 7.1 GW in 2013, and will rise to almost 40 GW by 2020, the report predicts. That’s an average annual growth rate of almost 30 per cent.

The bulk of the increase will come from Britain, Germany and China, where many new projects are planned or under way. Currently, Britain has the most offshore wind farms of any country, with about half of the worldwide capacity. While it will see more installed in the next few years – reaching 11 GW by 2020 – Britain’s worldwide share will decrease to less than 30 per cent, the GlobalData report says.

One gigawatt of power is roughly enough to power 250,000 homes.

Canada’s total wind power production currently stands at about 8.5 GW, but all of that is from land-based wind farms. There are no offshore wind projects operating or under construction yet in Canada.

The main reasons, said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association, is that electricity prices are lower in Canada – making it harder for offshore wind farms to compete – and that there are still lots of opportunities for cheaper on-shore installations.

In physically smaller countries such as Germany, the remaining opportunities for on-shore growth are limited, so developers are looking offshore, he said.

Still, over the long term there will eventually be offshore wind farms built in Canada because “it does represent a tremendous opportunity and a tremendous resource,” Mr. Hornung said.

There are two substantial offshore wind farms in the planning stages in Canada, but both are a long way from fruition.

St. John’s-based Beothuk Energy Inc. has plans for an $400-million, 180 MW wind farm in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the west coast of Newfoundland. And Naikun Wind Energy Group Inc. of Vancouver has been planning a 400 MW offshore wind project in Hecate Strait, between Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert off the northwest coast of British Columbia. Naikun has received environmental approvals, but the project is on hold because the company has not yet got a power purchase contract from the provincial government.

Plans by several developers to put wind turbines in the Great Lakes are also on hold because of a moratorium Ontario placed on offshore wind development more than three years ago. Ontario environment ministry spokeswoman Kate Jordan said three reports have already been completed on potential impacts of offshore wind, and two more technical studies are being commissioned. These will “support any future decisions on offshore wind development in Ontario,” she said.

There are no offshore wind farms in the United States yet either. The most advanced project is the Cape Wind farm off Cape Cod. It has received environmental approvals and has financing arranged, but has been delayed by an intense political fight, with stiff opposition from some local residents.

While offshore wind power generation is growing sharply around the world, it is still a relatively small proportion of the global wind power business – about 2.2 per cent of it in 2013, according to GlobalData. But the coming expansion of offshore capacity will change that, and this segment of the wind market will reach 6.1 per cent by 2020, according to the report.

GlobalData’s power analyst Swati Singh said offshore wind turbines are gaining market share because of the strong and consistent winds in the ocean, compared to on-shore.

The larger turbines that can now be placed offshore will also help decrease the cost per megawatt of power generated, he said.