5.4 The Future of Wind Energy: The Great Lakes

student created poster entitled the future of wind energy: The Great Lakes

Poster by student author Katherine A. Clark.

As seen in the last section, the use of renewable energy is on the rise. Here a student explores another source of alternative energy, offshore wind power.

Read the entire transcript of the poster below to learn more about the use of wind turbines in offshore locations.


Off-shore wind power was first implemented in Denmark in 1991. This form of energy generation is becoming extremely popular in Europe due to its capacity to reduce energy imports and displace the carbon footprint of the fossil fuel industry. Since human population is logically and historically concentrated towards coasts and waterways, offshore wind power all not only provide clean, sustainable energy for these cities, but does not take up any space in an already human-saturated landscape. The United States has finally invested in some small off-shore wind farms, starting with Block Island Wind Farm and Volturn US off the coast of Maine. Recently in 2016, the very first freshwater addition to the world of offshore wind development was granted funding in Cleveland, Ohio to Lake Erie Energy DevelopmentCo. (LEEDCo). This project will start small with six wind turbines that will begin construction in 2018. Freshwater wind farms have an advantage over salt water due to a lack of corrosion (and frequent require maintenance), damages associated with wave activity, and violent storms. The Great Lakes Region is predicted to be able to produce up to 740 gigawatts of clean energy per year. Cleveland, Ohio could theoretically become the first US Midwest city to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry.

Introduction to Wind Energy:

Figure 1: Danish offshore wind farm with many rows of wind turbines rising out of the water. Offshore wind turbines were first employed in Denmark in 1991 with the Vindeby wind farm. Since then, 3230 turbines have been constructed at over 84 offshore wind farms throughout Europe, producing over 11,000 Megawatts of power.1 As of 2013, wind power (on and off shore) accounts for up to 4.5% of annual electricity end-use in the United States.2 The US Department of Energy has created a plan entitled Wind Vision which has set a goal of using wind power to account for 10% of the nation’s electricity demand by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050.2 Offshore wind energy ir a subset of one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources due to larger capacity, more steady wind inputs, and advancing technologies. Due to these advancing technologies, renewable energy sources could produce electricity at a comparable price as compared to fossil fuels by 2020.3 Figure 2: A chart illustrating structural design improvements in rotor diameter and energy production from 1980 to 2015.

Project Icebreaker Wind:

Figure 3: Projected location of the six turbines for Project Icebreaker Wind near Cleveland, Ohio via a satellite map. Icebreaker at a Glance: This project, the first of the freshwater variety, will begin construction 8 miles off the coast of Cleveland, Ohio near the summer of 2018. Boasting six 3.45 megawatt wind turbines, energy capacity will be nearly 21 megawatts.4 This can power 10% of Cleveland homes. The project will employ fixed foundation turbines at a base approximately 30 meters below water level, connected to a power grid by fiber-optic cables. Lake Erie, given its shallow average depth and consistent wind speeds, is predicted to have an advantage over the other Great Lakes in the early stages of freshwater offshore wind development. Figure 4: Current development of offshore wind technology only involves shallow water turbine design. This shows what kinds of structural designs are in developments from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Benefits of Offshore Wind:

  • Clean Energy: Wind Energy most notably reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions which are the major cause of climate change.
  • Water conservation: Wind energy requires a very small percentage of the water consumed nu other sources of “clean” power generation such as nuclear.
  • Operation and Maintenance: Costs of operation are minuscule compared to that of the fossil fuel industry. Air quality: Improves air quality through zero-emission energy technology.5
  • Price stability: Wind energy does not use fuel and is therefore immune to price “volatility” associated with fossil fuels.6
  • Land conservation: Offshore wind does not compete with other land based industry (such as farming) for space.
  • Job Creation: A UK study estimates that offshore wind could create up to 215,000 new jobs by the year 2030.7

Environmental and Social Concerns:

  • Visual Pollution: As offshore wind technology is still developing, necessity requires the first offshore wind farms to be in more shallow waters, within view of the public eye and potentially hindering tourism.8
  • National Security: Some military advisors are concerned that turbines placed near international water overlap will interfere with operation of military radar surveillance.9
  • Navigational Safety: Large turbines may pose a hazard to small fishing boats, especially during inclemate water in shallow waters.6
  • Noise Pollution: Common concern regarding construction noise near populated coastal cities is on the rise. Once constructed, turbines should not produced any noise.
  • Impacts on Avian migratory species: Public concern regarding collision fatalities, displacement of populations, and rerouting of migratory birds has been discussed at length. Current studies show that with the amount of turbines in the world today, very few birds are injured by wind power.10 As noted in Figure 5, domestic house cats account for more than one thousand times the fatalities in bird populations than wind turbines.11 Figure 5. A bar graph illustrating the most common causes of mortality in birds (Erikson, et al. 2002) with buildings/windows being the largest contributor, followed by house cats.


  • Initial investment: One of the largest sources of opposition to offshore wind farms, as with all renewable energy resources, is the upfront capital investment, including manufacturing, installation, and infrastructure, accounts for up to 75% of the total lifetime cost of the system, much more than other renewable energy sources.9
  • Additional cost of offshore: Offshore wind is still 50% more expensive than its on land counterpart due to more complex infrastructural demands, larger towers and turbines, and experimental foundations.10
  • Lack of data: This is a pilot model, as no other freshwater wind developments exist around the world. Significant ice conditions in non-oceanic waters are largely under researched.
  • Maintenance access: Offshore wind turbines are slightly more expensive to maintain due to inaccessibility. Ice conditions can exacerbate this challenge.
  • Social attitudes: The Great Lakes Region, much like the rest of the Midwest are generally economically challenged and are married to a history of fossil fuel acquisition.
  • Politics: Social resistance to the change is largely reflective of the current political climate in the United States.12

The Future of Off-Shore Wind:

  • In 2010, the NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) estimated that a potential of 740 gigawatts of power capacity could be harnessed from the Great Lakes region a year.14
  • Advances in design weight of turbines, wether durability, foundational construction, remote monitoring, and maintenance optimization will significantly reduce costs.
  • A 2016 survey of the worlds foremost wind experts suggests that anticipated mean wind application costs could be reduced by 24-30% cost by 2030, and 31-41% cost reduction by 2050.15 Figure 6: Future projected range of legalized cost of energy in US dollar per megawatt for three types of wind turbine (onshore, fixed-bottom offshore, floating offshore).

Current Offshore Wind Projects:


  • Block Island Wind Farm in Rhode Island began operation in December 2016, providing power to a small isolated island as the first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States.
  • VolturnUS is the first floating wind turbine erected in May of 2013 in the Penobscot River.

Under construction:

  • Atlantic City, New Jersey, Fisherman’s Energy Atlantic City Windfarm will install five 5 megawatt turbines. Construction began in 2014.


  • Cap Wind proposed 430 megawatts wind farm in Massachusetts.
  • Deepwater One South Fork proposed 15-turbines, 90 megawatt wind farm off the tip of Montauk, New York.


  1. Wind in Power: 2014 European Statistics. WindEurope. European Wind Energy Associate. April 2016.
  2. Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States (2015). US Department of Energy: Wind and Water Power Technologies Office.
  3. A Plan for a Sustainable Future: how to get all energy from wind, water, and solar power by 2030. (2009, October). 58-65. Scientific American.
  4. Ohio Environmental Sitting Board. Icebreaker Windpower Ince. (2016, November).
  5. 20% Wind Energy by 2030: Increasing Wind Energy’s Contribution to U.S. Electricity Supply: Executive Summary. Washington D.C. U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 2008.
  6. Snyder, Brian and Mark J. Kaiser. Ecological and Economic Cost-benefit analysis of Offshore Wind Energy. Renewable Energy. 34.6. (2009): 1567-578.
  7. Dorsey, Inc. Piccirilli. Fact Sheet: Offshore Wind — Can the United States Catch Up with Europe? EESI Environmental and Energy Study Institute. 2016.
  8. Evans, Annette, et al. Assessment of Sustainability Indicators for Renewable Energy Technologies. Graduate School of the Environment. Macquarie University (2009).
  9. Welch, Johathan B., and Anand Venkateswaran. The Dual Sustainability of Wind Energy. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 13.5 (2009). 1121-126.
  10. Kaldellis, J. K., et al. Environmental and Social Footprint of Offshore Wind Energy. Comparison with Onshore Counterpart. Renewable Energy 92 (2016): 543-56.
  11. Erickson, Wallace P. Synthesis and Comparison of Baseline Avian and Bat Use, Raptor Nesting, and Mortality Information from Proposed and Existing Wind Developments: Final Report. (2002): 1-13.
  12. Ng, Chong and Li Ran. Offshore Wind Farms: Technologies, Design and Operation. Duxford, UK: Woodhead, an Imprint of Elsevier, 2016, 10-22.
  13. Adelaja, Adesoji, Charles Mckeown, Benjamin, and Yohannes Hailu. Assessing Offshore Wind Potential. Energy Policy 42(2012): 191-200.
  14. Schwartz, Marc N. (2010). Assessment of Offshore Wind Energy Resources for the United States. Colden Co; National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 17-103.
  15. Wiser, Ryan, et al. Expert Elicitation Survey on Future Wind Energy costs. Nature Energy 1.10 (2016): 1-7.


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5.4 The Future of Wind Energy: The Great Lakes by Brian H. Lower, Travis R. Shaul, Kylienne A. Shaul, and Ella M. Weaver is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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