Google Wind?: Internet Giant Invests in Regional Wind ‘Backbone’

by Dave on October 14, 2010

Image from Google Blog

Rehoboth Beach could be the hub of regional wind energy for the future. What began with Bluewater Wind has now been vastly accelerated in scope and potential.

That’s because Google, along with Good Energies and Japan’s Marubeni Corporation, will be backing an effort by transmission company Trans-Elect to create a “backbone transmission” grid off of the Mid-Atlantic coast that will be essential to the growth of offshore wind farms in the region.

“The AWC backbone will be built around offshore power hubs that will collect the power from multiple offshore wind farms and deliver it efficiently via sub-sea cables to the strongest, highest capacity parts of the land-based transmission system,” said Rick Needham, Green Business Operations Director for Google, in a blog post on Monday. “This system will act as a superhighway for clean energy. By putting strong, secure transmission in place, the project removes a major barrier to scaling up offshore wind, an industry that despite its potential, only had its first federal lease signed last week and still has no operating projects in the U.S.”

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the project would have the capacity equivalent to five nuclear reactors and would cost $5 billion to create.

The first phase of the backbone project would reach from Rehoboth Beach up to northern New Jersey at a cost of $1.6 billion.
“This is a significant development in what can be an important source of jobs and increased energy independence for the nation,” said Governor Jack Markell on Tuesday.

In a 2009 speech, Markell suggested the need for a project like the AWC backbone.

“Currently, transmission costs significantly increase the total costs of offshore wind to customers and may delay the growth of the industry,” Markell said in 2009. “An offshore transmission backbone may provide a solution to this challenge and we need to do the rigorous analysis to determine its feasibility. A trunk-line that would connect to the grid directly and allow projects to connect to it, rather than each trying to connect to the grid individually, could serve to avoid significant expense for individual projects. “

Limiting the single-project expense costs is a major benefit of the trunk line. But another highlight is simply the amount of wind in the region.

“The Mid-Atlantic region is ideally suited for offshore wind. It offers more than 60,000 MW of offshore wind potential in relatively shallow waters that extend miles out to sea,” said Google’s Needham. “These shallow waters make it easier to install turbines 10-15 miles offshore, meaning wind projects can take advantage of stronger winds and are virtually out-of-sight from land. With few other renewable energy options ideally suited for the Atlantic coast, the AWC backbone helps states meet their renewable energy goals and standards (PDF) by enabling a local offshore wind industry to deploy thousands of megawatts of clean, cost-effective wind energy.”

The process of creating and transmitting offshore wind off the coast of Delaware began with the Bluewater Wind project in 2007. But it just got much more interesting, thanks to one of the world’s biggest companies, and the effects on our small state could be staggering.

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