Ocean-based power is shrugging off the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding even as the world’s energy demand cools.
  • Offshore wind capacity is growing even as the pandemic-induced downturn crushes energy demand.
  • Sea-based power should grow by a record 6.6 gigawatts of capacity this year — eventually expanding by 31.9 gigawatts in 2030, according to the Global Offshore Wind Report.
  • Offshore wind may give the post-COVID economic recovery a jump start, especially in the European Union, the report says.

The offshore wind sector is projected to grow at record rates, even as COVID-19 sends the world’s economy spinning into a slump and energy demand falls by the most in 70 years.

Offshore wind capacity is expected to increase by 6.6 gigawatts of capacity globally this year, an all-time high that will likely be surpassed next year, according to the Global Offshore Wind Report released today by the Global Wind Energy Council, or GWEC. The upward trajectory is expected to continue, with worldwide capacity projected to experience eightfold growth between 2019 and 2030. The long timeline for project construction means work is continuing during the pandemic, and economic-recovery plans may bolster growth in coming years.

“We’re in the middle of a crisis but I’m still personally convinced that the sector will grow,” Feng Zhao, strategy director at the GWEC, told Karma. “The projects to be built in the next two years have already been financed and the construction work already kicked off in most cases.”

Investors funded 28 new offshore windfarms worth $35 billion during the first half of this year,  four times more than during the same period of 2019, a July report from Bloomberg NEF showed. The overall renewable energy sector grew because the offshore-wind boom outpaced the slump in onshore wind and solar investment, according to BNEF. GWEC Market Intelligence forecasts more than 205 gigawatts of new offshore wind capacity will be added globally by 2030, for a total of more than 234 gigawatts.

The three countries with the greatest installed offshore wind capacity are the U.K., Germany and China. European countries and China are projected to lead installations until the middle of the decade when construction in North America, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan picks up, according to the GWEC report, which was authored by Zhao and Joyce Lee.

While the COVID-19 pandemic started in China, the country’s offshore-wind industry quickly adapted to the situation, according to the report’s authors. There have been minimal disruptions in Europe and elsewhere, the report showed. 

“COVID starts to peak during the Chinese New Year, but the country got the virus under control and it’s clear that from the beginning of April the local industry, both onshore and offshore was back,” Zhao said.

Chinese developers are rushing to complete the projects by the end of 2021 so they can benefit from a government subsidy that will expire then. Construction is then expected to slump the following year, the report said. 

“Due to policy changes, 2020 and 2021 will be the biggest years for onshore and offshore wind in China,” Zhao said.

The only commercial U.S. offshore wind farm came online at Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island in December 2016. An 800 megawatt project off Martha’s Vineyard, the Vineyard Wind project, is expected to come online in 2023. U.S. capacity is projected to surge by more than 4 gigawatts in 2024, according to the report.

Offshore wind will get a further boost from European Union plans to put the Green Deal at the center of its COVID-19 recovery plan. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has called the Green Deal “Europe’s man on the moon moment” and is pursuing a goal of full decarbonization by 2050. 

“The EU is talking about a green recovery plan, with offshore wind being one of the pillars of recovery,” Zhao said. “They are looking to increase offshore wind generating capacity to 450 gigawatts by 2050. It’s going to kill multiple birds with one stone. Promote economic recovery, add new jobs and help with climate change.”

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images