Sustainable Energy

Is this the greatest untapped resource in the US?

Anmar Frangoul | Special to
Developers exploring offshore winds

The bracing waters of the smallest state in the U.S. will soon be home to a sea-change in the country's energy industry: its first offshore wind farm.

The Block Island Wind Farm will be a 30 megawatt, five-turbine facility that will provide the island, situated off the coast of Rhode Island, with most of its power.

According to Deepwater Wind, the project's developer, the wind farm will cut carbon dioxide emissions by 40,000 tons per year, and create more than 300 jobs.

"It will displace the diesel generators that now provide Block Island's electricity," Jeff Grybowski, Deepwater Wind chief executive officer, told CNBC via email.

World's largest floating wind farm gets go ahead

While offshore wind power may be new to the U.S., in Europe it is an established source of clean energy.

The European Commission describes offshore wind farms as, "an attractive source of renewable energy," while according to the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), total European offshore capacity in 2014 was eight gigawatts. The EWEA also states that nearly 100 gigawatts of "planned offshore wind farms" are "in the pipeline".

"We can take the lessons we're learning with the Block Island Wind Farm to inform the development of larger projects further offshore, and to further build out a U.S. supply chain," Grybowski said.

"We know offshore wind will be a major player in the nation's energy future," he added.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory states offshore wind power in the United States has a potential capacity of 4,200 gigawatts, but challenges do remain.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the construction and maintenance of offshore wind facilities is expensive when compared with onshore projects "because of challenges such as transporting equipment and workers to the sites, securing turbines to the seafloor, and operating in fewer periods of fair weather."

For Grybowski, the work being done with the Block Island project is the beginning of "something much bigger."

"We envision that our larger project, the 200 turbine Deepwater ONE wind farm – in the deep ocean waters between Massachusetts and Rhode Island – could be a regional energy solution for New England and New York, generating enough energy to power half a million homes," he said.

By Anmar Frangoul, special to Follow him on Twitter @AnmarFrangoul