Floating Wind Just Around the Corner

A new report published in July by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) makes some excellent reading about the viability of large scale floating wind farms, most notably:

…the first deep offshore wind farms could be installed and grid connected by 2017.

The idea has been around for a while – mount a turbine on top of a floating platform far offshore where the wind is better and no one can see it – However recent technology advances have made this much closer to reality. Efforts at Glosten Associates, Principle PowerStatoil, University of Maine to name a few are well past their initial concept phase and deep into trials – in July the first floating turbines were installed in Japan with electricity expected to be generated by October.

To my way of thinking floating production brings with it some key ingredients which will dramatically improve the market and economics around offshore wind.

  1. Lower Cost with On Shore Assembly – the largest cost for offshore wind installation is assembly at sea – installing foundations and assembling turbines in place with very rare and expensive vessels – floating wind turbines can be assembled on shore and towed into place – and for major maintenance the reverse path can be followed. This will dramatically lower the cost of building offshore wind.
  2. Out of View – NIMBY issues have stalled projects for decades. In the case of floating wing the Windfarm can be sited “over the horizon” which should make it a lot more palatable for those who like the idea of renewable energy as long as it doesn’t spoil the view.
  3. Offshore Transmission – In many places the desire for new electricity production is hampered by the limitations of the local transmission capability – and more importantly, the chances of getting new overhead transmission permits. With floating wind farm, although they may be over the horizon – they can be placed in direct proximity to major metro areas hungry for the power. Think of what a 1GW floating wind farm could do 20 miles off the coast of Los Angeles or San Francisco.
  4. Opens up New Markets – the West Coast, Japan, Northern Europe,  these are all places with large costal populations and large power consumption requirements but no shallow water – floating wind opens these markets, dramatically expanding the total market potential for offshore wind.
  5. Technically Feasible – As the demonstration projects are proving, the technology to pull this off can be largely adapted from proven techniques and processes taken from existing marine industries such as Oil & Gas and Telecommunications.

The phrase “Game Changer” is one of those blandly overused business terms – but Floating Wind does seem to have to the potential to actually change the game of offshore electricity production, the next 24 months should be interesting.

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