As the U.S. power generation mix continues to tilt away from fossil-fueled resources and toward renewable solar and wind generation, discussions increasingly focus on the effects on the electric grid.
Built around traditional fossil-fueled sources over the last hundred-plus years, the existing grid system in the Northeast was generally designed to deliver energy from inland plants to coastal cities. However, new renewable generation sites, specifically for offshore wind, are proposing to connect at the end of the line to push power back inland — and infinite capacity to do so doesn’t exist.
The resulting challenge — grid stability — is currently one of the largest risks that offshore wind projects face.
Though relatively untested in the U.S., the demand and potential for offshore wind generation are immense. To see that this technology is executed properly, projects need to identify and address offshore wind’s unique effect on grid stability.
In addition to the primary considerations for grid stability (frequency, voltage and short circuit current) when interconnecting any new generation, offshore wind projects are even more complex due to their sheer magnitude and remote connection locations. Different from a solar farm that can pivot to an optimal site based on existing infrastructure, infrastructure is limited along the coast for offshore wind to interconnect. Therefore, sizeable onshore facility upgrades become necessary concerns for these fundamentally offshore projects.
To be cost-effective, these projects need to determine early in the development phase how robust the interconnection issue is for their potential locations. Whether the issue is marginal or severe, systems can be put in place to address the resulting grid stability needs. From reactive power and system inertia to short circuit current, the right solution can be pinpointed with comprehensive, upfront planning. However, if identified too late in the process, the correlating cost or implementation timeline of any of these systems may lead the project to be financially or technically nonviable.
While the grid stability challenges for offshore wind projects are complex and multifaceted, they are not insurmountable. Conversations are ongoing, solutions exist and progress is being made. As long as these challenges are met head on — early in the project development — there is no reason offshore wind cannot become a boon for renewable generation in the U.S.
Maintaining system frequency and voltage stability while supplying sufficient short circuit current is key for offshore wind projects to achieve grid stability. Learn more about how to chart a course to grid stability with effective offshore wind project planning.