The Gulf of Maine has been characterized as the Saudi Arabia of wind. To Habib Dagher, it is a wellspring of one of the Northeast’s greatest renewable energy resources.
Dagher, director of UMaine’s AEWC Advanced Structures & Composites Center, is collaborating with companies on the design, manufacture and testing of floating wind turbine technology off the Maine coast in waters 60–900 meters deep. The turbines would feature 300-foot towers with 200-foot blades prototyped, manufactured and tested by AEWC researchers.
In early 2010, AEWC is expected to open an advanced wind blade prototyping facility, where full-scale trial blades can be designed, fabricated and tested under one roof. Funding for the facility came from the Maine Technology Institute, which last fall awarded nearly $5 million to two AEWC initiatives focused on the renewable energy and transportation industries. The allocations were made possible by a $50 million Maine Technology Asset Fund (MTAF) R&D bond Maine voters approved in 2007.
In the past year, Dagher’s deepwater wind research has made national headlines. In June, he met with U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to discuss a proposal to establish a national offshore wind research center at UMaine. In summer 2008, Dagher was on Capitol Hill advocating for increased funding for wind energy research and development before the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Most recently, AEWC was awarded a 2009 Academic Pioneer Award by the Ocean Energy Council.
Research has shown that ocean winds are steadier and stronger, and can produce more energy than onshore wind turbines. There also is less visual impact to the landscape, since those Dagher proposes for the Gulf of Maine will be located 3–20 miles from shore.
Dagher says concerns about disrupting the natural habitats of whales, fish and birds can be overcome in an environmentally responsible manner.
It’s important that alternative energy research progress rapidly, especially in Maine, in light of an estimated 80 percent of the state’s residents who use heating oil, Dagher says. If other viable fuel options aren’t discovered and implemented, the region’s heating crisis likely will intensify.
As defined by Dagher, the current sustainable energy plan for the state is to generate 5 gigawatts of offshore wind in the next 10–20 years by installing 1,000, 5-megawatt wind turbines in the gulf.
Within 50 nautical miles of Maine’s coast is the potential to produce 149,000 megawatts of power using offshore wind — the equivalent of 40 nuclear power plants, Dagher says.
“If we do it right, we can take care of ourselves and export not only lobsters from the Gulf of Maine, but clean energy,” he says.
Despite the potential for offshore wind as a sustainable energy source, Dagher cautions that it isn’t the whole story. Becoming more energy responsible also includes increasing smart grid technologies to efficiently transport electricity to consumers, converting traditional heating systems to modern heat pumps, and expanding use of electric hybrid vehicles.