Marine Geospatial Ecology Lab

Winds of Change: Tracking the Development of US Offshore Wind Energy 

Duke University recently hosted “Winds of Change: Tracking the Development of US Offshore Wind Energy,” a one-day symposium to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the offshore wind energy sector. This event was jointly orchestrated by the Nicholas School of the Environment, the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability, and the Center for Energy, Development, the Global Environment (EDGE) at the Fuqua School of Business.  

Given the swift emergence of offshore wind planning along the Atlantic coast of the United States, it is a crucial time to invite discussion between the various entities involved in this burgeoning industry. Winds of Change gathered government officials, energy developers, NGO representatives, wildlife researchers, clean business leaders, and students to engage on the topic of sustainable offshore wind development.  

Brian Murray, interim director of the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability, gave the opening remarks, followed by Duke President Vincent Price. “Through our Marine Lab in Beaufort, deep expertise across our schools of the environment, engineering and business, and engagement by the Nicholas Institute, Duke is leading an ocean centered approach to energy transformation research,” said Price. President Price also explained how the conference supports the Duke Climate Commitment, a university-wide initiative to address the climate crisis through education, research, external engagement, and campus operations. Winds of Change is one of the many ways Duke is contributing to a more sustainable future.  

Governor Roy Cooper addresses the audience at Winds of Change.  

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper delivered the event’s opening address, emphasizing the state’s commitment to renewable energy. Cooper touched upon his signing of Executive Order 218, which set energy development goals “specifically to advance North Carolina offshore wind development.”  

The Governor also spoke about Executive Order 80, which he signed in 2018. This Executive Order aimed to reduce carbon emissions in the power sector by 70% by 2030, with complete carbon neutrality by 2050. These mandates were included in House Bill 951, which Cooper signed at the end of 2021. As such, North Carolina became the second state in the southeast to put carbon reduction requirements into law. 

 “For decades, North Carolina has resolved to stay on the cutting edge of global challenges,” Cooper said, “North Carolina is always ready for the next big thing.” 

Winds of Change explored the many dimensions of sustainable offshore wind development. The event convened panels on developer and utility perspectives, supply chains and transmission, project financing, leasing and permitting, and the potential impacts on wildlife and the environment. There was ample time for networking during breaks, allowing representatives of different specialties to forge connections.  

The Wildlife and Offshore Wind (WOW) Project, funded by the US Department of Energy and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management with Duke as lead institution, was a frequent topic of discussion, with both Dr. Murray and President Price mentioning the research in their opening speeches. Doug Nowacek, lead PI on the project, gave a more comprehensive account of the project as a panelist. Nowacek emphasized the collaborative nature of Project WOW, giving shoutouts to the Regional Wildlife Science Collaborative for Offshore Wind (RWSC), all partners involved in data collection, and MGEL’s own Pat Halpin. Nowacek gave an overview of the project timeline and then dove into the potential threats that offshore wind developments pose to marine mammals in particular.  

The conference was well attended by both graduate and undergraduate students as well as industry professionals and NGOs. Bryce O’Brien, a second-year Masters of Coastal Environmental Management student, and Eliza Carter, a second-year Masters of Enviromental Management student, were both in attendance. Both Bryce and Eliza work with MGEL on Project WOW, mapping the biological and ecological components of offshore wind sites in the US Atlantic.  

Winds of Change was followed by an evening reception and the kick-off event for the Blue Economy Summit, a conference on marine entrepreneurship opportunities organized by Oceans@Duke. The opening event for the Blue Economy Summit included the Oceans Innovations Showcase, a space to highlight innovative ocean-related technology. MGEL was invited to take part in this Oceans Innovations Showcase to share our work on accessible ocean-mapping products such as OBIS-SEAMAP.  

Maddie Paris (left) and Debbie Brill (right) representing MGEL at the Ocean Innovations Showcase.  

Winds of Change was a success, with diverse attendance and an abundance of meaningful connections and information. We are just beginning to build an offshore wind industry in the United States; the future prospects for this industry are exciting, with abundant opportunities for jobs and clean energy that can be developed responsibly.