var _gaq = _gaq || []; _gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-21462253-7']); _gaq.push(['_trackPageview']); (function() { var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true; ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + ''; var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s); })();

Bailey College of Science and Mathematics

Enhancing lives through learning, discovery and innovation

Undergraduate Research Magazine

Website Update

Findings for the Future of Deepwater Wind Energy

Photo of wind enegry farm in ocean.


APRIL 2023

In 2021, the Biden-Harris administration set a deployment goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030 and more recently announced an additional goal of 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind energy by 2035. In December 2022, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management hosted its first offshore wind lease sale on the Pacific Coast, with five companies securing leases in California, three off the coast of Morro Bay and two near Eureka in Humboldt County. All of this to say, offshore wind is coming to California. But how will these floating farms affect the environment?

When I was an undergraduate biological sciences student at Cal Poly in 2016, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management had just received its first application to develop a 650-megawatt floating offshore wind farm off the coast of Morro Bay. I was curious how the proposed project might affect the local environment and began researching offshore wind energy alongside my schoolwork.

Hayley Farr Cal Poly alumniAt the time, offshore wind farms in Europe used fixed structures, such as steel monopiles or jacket foundations, to connect wind turbines to the seafloor. Only a handful of floating wind turbines had ever been deployed in the world, and none in waters deeper than a few hundred meters. The floating offshore wind farms slated for development off the Pacific Coast, however, would need to be installed roughly 25 to 40 miles offshore and and 1,000 or more meters above the seafloor to harness the best wind resources available.

After Crow White, my research advisor, encouraged me to explore the scientific literature on environmental effects of offshore wind energy, I quickly found that information on floating wind, let alone deepwater floating wind, was scarce. Realizing there was a gap in the literature, and hoping to contribute to California’s clean energy future, I joined White, Benjamin Ruttenberg, Ryan Walter and Yi-Hui Wang — all faculty in the College of Science and Mathematics — on a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management-funded project that aimed to assess the offshore wind resource potential off the Central California coast, compile existing data and information and inform future decision-making and leasing.

Cal Poly wind energy research teamMembers of the research team in 2019, from left: Crow White, Ben Ruttenberg, Ryan Walter, Matthew Kehrli and Yi-Hui Wang. Photo by Joe Johnston

As part of the effort, we published the first synthesis of potential environmental effects of deepwater floating offshore wind, as well as potential mitigation strategies for some of the effects. Given the limited availability of information on deepwater floating wind turbines, we conducted a systematic literature review on the environmental effects of analogous technologies such as fixed-bottom offshore wind turbines, oil and gas platforms, and marine energy devices.

In total, we evaluated six categories of potential effects, including changes to atmospheric and ocean dynamics due to the removal of wind energy from turbines; effects on marine animals from noise and electromagnetic field emissions; changes to benthic and pelagic communities due to habitat alterations; collision, displacement and entanglement risks; and changes to water quality.

Overall, we found that the potential effects of deepwater floating offshore wind farms on marine species, habitats and ecosystem processes are likely to be minor to moderate, though monitoring and research is needed to validate our results as more projects are deployed. The findings also suggest that offshore wind developers can further reduce the potential effects of deepwater floating wind farms by carefully siting them outside of important habitats, such as key migratory pathways, and using existing best management practices and effective mitigation strategies.

After I graduated in 2018, we published our synthesis in an open access journal so it could serve as a reference document for researchers, regulators, project developers and other stakeholders as floating offshore wind energy development advances along the Pacific Coast and elsewhere in the world. Throughout my research experience at Cal Poly, my collaborators taught me the importance of effective writing and communication, presenting to formal and informal audiences and networking. I began volunteering at conferences to learn from those in the industry and to find a job contributing to the energy transition.

Research publication linkNow, I’m a scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. I get to work with researchers, regulators and other stakeholders from around the world to advance offshore wind and marine energy through research and development. Although we still have a few years before we’ll see turbines off the Pacific Coast, I’m optimistic that we can develop floating offshore wind energy in an environmentally responsible manner and am excited to be a part of the clean energy transition.



Related Content

Undergraduate Research Magazine 2024

Research Magazine 2024

Read Here

Undergraduate Research Magazine - 2023

Read Here

DEI in the Bailey College

Bailey College DEI IDEAS gears graphic

Learn more here

Support Learn By Doing in the Bailey College

Support Learn by Doing in the Bailey College

Support Learn by Doing