The United States hosts only 7 offshore wind turbines. But a startup is betting on autonomous underwater vehicles to map the seabed up to 10 times faster than current methods.

Making Net Zero Possible, presented by Schneider Electric

Kazi Awal / Insider

Wind turbines generate electricity at the Block Island wind farm on July 07, 2022 near Block Island, Rhode Island.  The first commercial offshore wind farm in the United States

The United States has more than 20 new projects along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as along the Gulf of Mexico.John Moore / Getty Images

  • The US has an ambitious target for offshore wind, but disruptions to marine investigations slow the process.

  • Bedrock’s seabed mapping technologies have the potential to spur offshore wind developments.

  • This article is part of the “Making Net Zero Possible” series that unveils forward-looking solutions that can make a future without a network a reality.

The United States is racing to accelerate offshore wind turbine production. But these efforts may be slowed by what lies beneath the ocean.

In the spring of 2021, the Biden administration set an ambitious goal of producing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030. This, combined with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides a 30% tax credit. for offshore wind developers leading the way before early 2026 – has led to a boost of more than 20 new projects along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the United States, as well as along the Gulf of Mexico.

To start projects, companies must first conduct a survey of the seabed.

Joellen Russell, an oceanographer and professor of dynamic biogeochemistry at the University of Arizona, told Insider that it should be a top priority to find out what’s on the ocean floor and commercial uses already in place, such as cables, gas and drilling, sewer pipes, fishing traps and aquarium research.

“This is part of our collective national assets,” he said. “They are becoming increasingly accessible and important to our security and energy strategy.”

Russell added that the US has been particularly slow to leverage its technology solutions for offshore projects.

“Why can’t Google Map basically visit our shelf resources the same way we can in our national parks?” she said.

The answer to Russell’s question, and perhaps the obsolete offshore industry takeover process, is one that Bedrock CEO and co-founder Anthony DiMare tried to solve with the help of his team’s autonomous underwater vehicles, which could enable the United States to be more efficient on its path to renewable energy.

Detecting the sea floor is harder – and harder – than it should be

Jesse Baldwin, the head of US site investigations for Ørsted, told Insider that the US underground is more complex than people might think. Baldwin said Ørsted had a dedicated team of over 100 people to interpret marine data for the company’s offshore wind developments.

Before companies can take steps to build wind turbines, they must map the seabed using a “geological survey,” which involves mounting sonar on manned ships to map the layers of the ocean floor. This helps developers determine information such as sedimentary composition and where to lay cable routes, beat turbine steel pipes (called poles), and anchor boats.

But the 200- to 300-foot vessels are loud enough to damage marine life and can cost as much as $ 350,000 to operate, DiMare said. As these fleets are also used for oil and gas exploration, the demand for ships exceeds supply.

The initial discovery process could take up to six months. And even after a developer gets a ship on-site, it could take another six months to process the data and conduct a full review. If a company loses a survey, its project stalled.

DiMare sees these bottlenecks as one of the main reasons the United States may not meet its targets for offshore wind, which the White House says would generate enough electricity to power more than 10 million homes for a year.

“What it has created is a demand for more capacity to move sonar across the ocean in the most scalable, fast, efficient and environmentally friendly way possible,” he said.

How AUVs could solve the problem

With Bedrock, the DiMare team could fly one of their autonomous electric underwater vehicles to a survey location in just 24 hours.

“We want to do this in fleets so it doesn’t take two to three months. It could take two weeks,” he said. Bedrock’s goal is to make the seabed process up to 10 times faster than current methods, DiMare told Emerging Tech Brew.

The startup’s vehicles operate entirely under the ocean surface and can dive up to 300 meters, eliminating the risk of weather delays. Its vehicles also have smaller, higher-frequency sonars than the ships currently in use, DiMare added, meaning its AUVs can operate without a permit because they pose no threat to marine life.

Bedrock’s AUVs, which boot from the ground and rely on the local Internet for faster data access, are designed for scalability.

“Since these are really small AUVs rather than large ones, we can make hundreds of them in the same amount of time it takes to build a scout ship,” he said, adding that it is “much easier” to build an AUV than a car.

While the startup is in its early stages – Bedrock has only built two AUVs – DiMare said it has secured inventory for up to 10 vehicles.

Mapping efforts are vital for the future of offshore energy

Only 23.4% of the ocean floor has been mapped, according to the Nippon Foundation-GEBCO Seabed 2030 project, an international collaboration aimed at producing a comprehensive map of the world’s seabed by 2030.

The project, which received formal U.S. participation in June, has more than 40 international organizations and networks in 50 countries working together to compile critical seabed data.

Bedrock’s cloud platform, Mosaic, is one of them. With it, users from anywhere in the world can access free and publicly available seabed data.

“This is something that we believe is fundamental for the expansion of human knowledge, for the acceleration of projects, for the advancement of science,” DiMare said.

While there is still work to be done to get a full picture of the “invisible”, Russell sees the push for offshore wind farming in the United States as one way to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

“I hope to get that seabed map so that we can make wise decisions about where to place our resilience infrastructure, our wind farms,” ​​he said.

“If we do it right with care and foresight,” he added, “we could see an explosion of resilience and prosperity that helps regrow and improve our ocean infrastructure.”

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