• Joe Biden has recently announced the United States' plan to achieve 'net-zero' emissions by 2050.
  • It will require massive changes in the energy sector, with enormous ramp-ups of electricity generated from wind turbines during the coming 30 years.
  • It's predicted this boom in offshore wind development has the potential to rejuvenate working waterfronts and ports with green energy jobs.

To address global warming the White House has stated that president Biden’s green energy plan aims to set the US on a course toward achieving “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. If achieved, it would mean the country that currently ranks as the world’s worst historical climate polluter would stop adding new climate pollution to the atmosphere. All of the pathways for achieving this goal imagined under Princeton University’s Net Zero America project show enormous ramp-ups of electricity generated from wind turbines during the coming 30 years.

Where is offshore wind green energy expected to be located in the US?

The turbines would be clustered on wind farms off the coasts and embedded among agricultural operations. They’ll be far enough from cities to protect urban residents from noise and strobe-like flickering caused by blades’ shadows, but close enough for the power to be economically delivered through electrical transmission lines. A Climate Central analysis of the Net Zero America data suggests that if the net zero goal is achieved, wind farms in Texas, Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois could each have more capacity installed by 2050 than the 118 gigawatts of wind capacity currently operational in the US.

A fresh push by developers, newfound federal support for offshore wind energy under president Biden, and long-running efforts by states to drive up green energy production mean the US’s East Coast is poised for a rush of approvals of sweeping arrays of turbines fixed to towers driven into the Atlantic’s floor. Future booms are also possible along the Gulf of Mexico, in the Great Lakes, and off the West Coast. Turbines operating in deep Pacific and Gulf of Maine waters would need to be installed on floating platforms. Some of that technology is being adapted from gas and oil drilling operations, but so far floating deployments have been very limited worldwide.

The amount of 2050 electricity use that could be supplied by offshore wind
The amount of 2050 electricity use that could be supplied by offshore wind
Image: Environment America Research & Policy Center

The best states for wind capacity and jobs created while reaching net-zero emissions by 2050

Top 10 state in category
The best states for wind capacity and jobs created while reaching net-zero emissions by 2050
Image: Quartz

The green energy jobs created by building offshore wind farms

A boom in offshore wind development has the potential to rejuvenate working waterfronts and ports with green energy jobs. Shipbuilding yards will be needed to manufacture vessels able to install and service the turbines and associated coastal facilities.

Building and maintaining all of the solar farms, wind farms, transmission lines and, other infrastructure needed to reach net zero emissions nationally by 2050 will require a lot of workers, helping to put former employees from fossil fuel and, other fading sectors to work. The Net Zero America data show a continued rise in employment in the solar energy sector. They forecasted the greatest growth of wind energy jobs, however, to begin a decade from now.

1. Planning

The first step is planning where a wind farm will be. Generally, the wind at sea is stronger and more consistent than on land. There are several factors for determining if a site is good for developing a wind farm, including environmental impacts. A range of experts are brought together to assess the site.

2. Manufacturing

Next, parts for the wind farm need to be manufactured. Currently, most parts for wind farms are imported from Europe. If the US demand for wind energy is great enough, it could become more profitable to manufacture parts domestically. Workers are not only needed to create the components wind turbines and transmission cables are made of but also to build the supporting infrastructure necessary to install and construct them.

3. Installation

Then, the farm is installed. Construction requires technicians, electricians, engineers, painters, call operators, underwater welders, iron workers, and crane operators.

Then there are all the maritime jobs, and those needed to operate a sea port.

4. Operation and maintenance

Finally, the farm enters operation. Technicians, electricians, inspectors, and control center operators are necessary to keep the wind farm running and make adjustments according to needs of the power grid.

Maritime workers like vessel operators are necessary to transport crews for turbine and transmission cable repairs.

“Offshore wind is a once-in-a-generation economic opportunity to build a new industry,” said Ross Gould, the supply chain development vice president at the Business Network for Offshore Wind, a group that’s working to identify and help meet the future workforce and supply needs of offshore wind projects in the US. “Currently we’re seeing a boom in project management and project development jobs up and down the East Coast as the projects are beginning to move further along in their studying and assessment work.”

When wind energy generation rose to more than 8% of America’s utility-scale electricity production in 2020, it was more than 50 times higher than production in 2000, US Energy Information Administration data show. Almost all of this development was in rural areas, with much of the power being delivered through transmission lines into nearby metro areas.

Wind farms benefit farmers, governments, and job seekers.

The growth is providing new lease and tax revenues for farmers and local governments. It is also bringing job training for a growing army of maintenance workers known as wind energy technicians. The skills are being taught by hundreds of community colleges and other training institutions nationwide. “Our placement is incredible,” said Andrew Swapp, director of the wind energy technology course at Mesalands Community College in New Mexico. “If a person really wants to go to work, they’re going to get a job.”

What's the World Economic Forum doing about the transition to clean energy?

Moving to clean energy is key to combating climate change, yet in the past five years, the energy transition has stagnated.

Energy consumption and production contribute to two-thirds of global emissions, and 81% of the global energy system is still based on fossil fuels, the same percentage as 30 years ago. Plus, improvements in the energy intensity of the global economy (the amount of energy used per unit of economic activity) are slowing. In 2018 energy intensity improved by 1.2%, the slowest rate since 2010.

Effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation are needed to create a more inclusive, sustainable, affordable and secure global energy system.

Benchmarking progress is essential to a successful transition. The World Economic Forum’s Energy Transition Index, which ranks 115 economies on how well they balance energy security and access with environmental sustainability and affordability, shows that the biggest challenge facing energy transition is the lack of readiness among the world’s largest emitters, including US, China, India and Russia. The 10 countries that score the highest in terms of readiness account for only 2.6% of global annual emissions.

To future-proof the global energy system, the Forum’s Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials Platform is working on initiatives including, Systemic Efficiency, Innovation and Clean Energy and the Global Battery Alliance to encourage and enable innovative energy investments, technologies and solutions.

Additionally, the Mission Possible Platform (MPP) is working to assemble public and private partners to further the industry transition to set heavy industry and mobility sectors on the pathway towards net-zero emissions. MPP is an initiative created by the World Economic Forum and the Energy Transitions Commission.

Is your organisation interested in working with the World Economic Forum? Find out more here.

Offshore wind farming has been booming in Europe for decades and more recently across parts of Asia. The US has been falling behind when it comes to generating wind power at sea. There is just one small offshore wind farm operating on US waters. It’s off the coast of Rhode Island. Industry insiders blame a reluctance by Americans to act on climate change and lack of federal leadership in permitting and pushing for more offshore wind projects.

“We’re a late-comer,” said Chris Wissemann, chief executive of wind energy developer Diamond Offshore Wind, who said the reason has been “literally climate denial.” But oceans are reliably blustery places. Calculations by the nonprofit Environment America indicate that offshore wind farms could provide almost all of the power Americans need by 2050. That means keeping the lights, heaters, and air conditioners on and fueling a nation’s worth of electrified cars, trucks, and transit systems, all from coastal wind farms.