Delivering offshore wind energy where it’s needed

In the global race to embrace renewable energy, Kelly Smith, E11, EG21, plays a key role.

As a package manager in Ocean Winds, helps direct civil and electrical engineering related to capturing and transmitting energy generated by wind turbines off the coast of Massachusetts. This energy from their flagship project in the USA, South Coast Windis expected to be delivered to the land network before the end of the decade, powering over a million homes and businesses.

Ocean Winds’ projects are part of the rapid development of the American offshore wind industry on the Atlantic coast. Although recent supply chain challenges have derailed some industry plans, SouthCoast says it is on track to deliver electricity generated from about 150 turbines being built on a one-nautical-mile network 30 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and 20 miles south of Nantucket.

The electricity will be transmitted onshore through an interconnection point established at Brayton Point in Somerset, Massachusetts, where 500-foot cooling towers were demolished to make way for Brayton Point Shopping Center Volo supporting production and the offshore wind energy industry.

“The scale of these strong marine resources is really exciting,” Smith says, presenting it as a “big piece” of how New England can achieve its decarbonization goals. The New England states have reached an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33% by 2025, 50% by 2030, 75% by 2040 and 85% by 2050.

“Even though all of these projects, due to logistics, permitting, contracts and construction, require significant turnaround time,” Smith says, “it is rewarding to know that I am doing my part to support the development of sustainable and renewable energy.”

Why sea wind

Originally from Pennsylvania, Smith learned about climate change in high school and was inspired to consider a career in renewable energy.

Tufts offered an interdisciplinary track. She majored in environmental engineering and then became an engineering consultant in the Boston area, specializing in water resources. While working as a technical consultant on cabling issues for an offshore wind project on the East Coast, she learned about Tufts’ new solution postgraduate studies in offshore wind energy.

The time was right to return to the School of Engineering. “I thought it would be a good way to advance my career, but I’m still focused on the civilian side of engineering,” Smith says. “It complemented my knowledge of the interconnectedness of the energy sector and everything related to infrastructure and planning. It’s an important framework for understanding how all the pieces of the puzzle come together.”

Project development life cycle

Offshore wind project development is defined by what industry insiders call packages, with different packages coming into play as each project evolves and progresses, Smith says.

Each work package corresponds to a major project component and key supply chain contracts, for example securing turbine foundations or laying subsea cables. While ensuring the proper development of the onshore package, Smith focuses on onshore components enabling the connection of the offshore wind farm to the onshore transmission system.

Work includes overseeing civil, mechanical, electrical and pre-assembly operations that are critical to engineering, permitting and stakeholder engagement. “We have to exercise due diligence. We need to share our proposals with all experts in various environmental and social specialties,” he says. “This stage is long and requires strong integration of technical aspects and permits.”

Sharing knowledge

Among the challenges facing the offshore wind industry is coordinating cross-regional efforts to ensure the energy gets where it needs to go.

“We’re still figuring out how we’re going to handle the onshore upgrades needed to connect large renewable energy sources,” says Smith, who spoke about transmission challenges on a Tufts panel of experts last year. “But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is making policy changes that could help make the process clearer and more efficient.”

Smith also recently co-chaired a panel led by New England Women in Energy and the Environment, titled Women Shaping the Agenda. There, again, speakers shared their insights on the challenges of bringing large-scale renewable energy sources online.

Building new infrastructure will have impacts on construction and development, so the process of accounting for those impacts and approving projects should be reconsidered, he says.

“Often, the traditional regulatory review framework is based on conventional fossil fuels,” he says. “We are at a point where we need to rethink the way we study and perhaps even the way we allow projects to happen.”

Smith understands that large projects take longer because it takes time to reach consensus, but he supports the goal of local involvement. “I don’t think any of us would want to live in a place where there’s no community involvement and no opportunity to have our voices heard,” he says.

A “working” perspective.

Looking ahead, Smith is optimistic that offshore wind can help the United States make progress toward decarbonization. Boosting industry and other sources of clean energy is the Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to achieve the Biden administration’s goal of 50 to 52% reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.

“We left the starting line (but) there are days when I don’t think we’re running fast enough,” Smith says. “Climate change is not a challenge for the next generation; we all need to work on this, and we need to work on it now. We need to do the hard, daily work of understanding what’s at stake, including reconsidering what we’re willing to pay for clean, renewable energy. Offshore wind energy is the wedge of everything we, as a society, need to achieve to fight climate change.