Coastal Carolina University is one of 12 North and South Carolina organizations working together to accelerate the development of offshore wind energy on the south Atlantic seaboard. A recent meeting was praised as a significant first step toward regional collaboration for offshore wind in the Southeast.
In addition to CCU, participating organizations included the U.S. Department of Energy Savannah River National Laboratory, Santee Cooper, N.C. Offshore Wind Coalition, N.C. Department of Commerce, N.C. Solar Center, N.C. Sustainable Energy Association, S.C. Energy Office, Clemson University Restoration Institute, S.C. Coastal Conservation League, the North Strand Coastal Wind Tea and the City of North Myrtle Beach.
The objective of the two-state meeting was to explore ways to leverage each state's unique experience, knowledge and resources to accelerate the deployment of offshore wind energy in a way that is mutually beneficial to both states.
"CCU's Burroughs & Chapin Center for Marine and Wetlands Studies has been working with this great group of colleagues from across the state for six or seven years, trying to realize the full potential of our offshore renewable energy resources," said Paul Gayes, director of the center. "Engaging Coastal Carolina students in that process, exposing them to the developing real world needs and helping develop the scientists and technical leaders needed to lead the project in the future are rewarding and enduring products of our efforts."
Some of the initial opportunities discussed at the meeting included enabling various research institutions to collaborate on future research projects and exploring the possibility of an offshore wind energy project along the NC/SC border.
According to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, 33 percent of the total East Coast offshore wind energy within 50 miles of the shoreline is located off the coast of North and South Carolina, and both states have offshore wind energy resources that exceed their current installed electricity generation capacity.
"Based on the report, North Carolina and South Carolina have the largest offshore wind energy resources in shallow water on the Atlantic Seaboard," said Ralph Nichols, wind energy program manager at the Savannah River National Laboratory. Indeed, if one looks at wind energy in shallow water (less than 30 meters) and more than 12 miles from the shore, an important consideration in limiting visual impacts, the figures are even more impressive, with the Carolinas alone holding more than half of East Coast resource. Adding Virginia and Georgia bumps that figure to more than 82 percent.
"This excellent wind resource, combined with outstanding port facilities in the region, should attract investment by utilities and the offshore wind industry," said Nichols.
The Carolinas not only have an impressive energy resource, but may also have some distinct business advantages. "This is an industry where about 10 percent of the cost is materials and 90 percent is labor, and that represents a significant advantage for the lower-cost labor markets of the Southeast to attract manufacturing," said Jen Banks of the N.C. Solar Center. That dynamic helps to explain why there are currently more than 3,000 people in the Carolinas already employed in the wind industry supply chain despite not having a single utility-scale wind farm operating in either of the two states.
While the Carolinas have already started to explore options for collaboration, the groups are also open to talking with neighboring states.
"Regional solutions are ultimately what make sense for the United States offshore wind industry," said Brian O'Hara, president of the NC Offshore Wind Coalition. Hamilton Davis of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League agrees. "This is a great first step in organizing the Southeastern states and working together toward some common goals."