California has set the ambitious goal of generating half its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. The Golden State’s sunshine will make solar energy part of that equation, and turbines capturing the wind already spin on hills across the state. Trident Winds hopes to capitalize on what might be the state’s most plentiful natural resource: its coastline. Trident has plans to construct California’s first offshore wind farm, capturing the power of wind where it is fast and uninterrupted by terrestrial obstacles.
The plan, which could be operating by 2025 if approvals and financing continue to move forward, would put 100 floating wind turbines about 30 miles off the coast of Morro Bay, roughly halfway between Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. These would provide up to 1 gigawatt of carbon-free power to customers in the region, where a 50-year-old gas-fired power plant on the beach at Morro Bay was decommissioned in 2014. The wind farm could power the homes of almost 7 million people. It’s one step toward a revised energy future.
One practical problem with renewable energy, which consistent ocean wind could help mitigate, is something called the “duck curve.” It’s a mismatch between overall power use and power generated by renewables — its line on a graph is shaped like a duck. Solar generates excess energy during daylight hours, creating an oversupply curve that graphs like a fat duck belly. At night, there’s no solar while demand rises as residents go home from work, so the graph climbs like a duck’s neck. Offshore wind blows 24 hours a day and can add predictability to the system. That lowers stress on system infrastructure as well as on the complicated economics of energy pricing.
Numerous successful offshore wind projects are already spinning in Europe, and construction has begun on turbines for the Deepwater Wind project off the shore of Rhode Island. The West Coast of the United States has presented a challenge because the ocean gets very deep just a few miles offshore, according to Trident Winds founder Alla Weinstein. Trident’s plan calls for floating turbines, moored to the ocean by cables up to 1,000 meters deep. A substation will float and connect via undersea cable to the power grid. The arrangement allows the turbines to sit far enough from shore that they won’t be an eyesore on the picturesque shorefront — unlike the three smokestacks of the beach’s existing power plant that visitors have grown to accept.