The next energy frontier: floating wind farms
The global energy transition is underway. The uptake of renewables is accelerating, as the technology undercuts fossil fuel based energy generation and governments seek to achieve international climate targets. Renewable energy is now also accepted as an opportunity to drive green economic growth and job creation to help support the recovery from the impacts of Covid-19.
Offshore wind has a key role to play in this energy transition, having grown nearly 30% per year between 2010 and 2018. The IEA predicts global offshore wind capacity to increase fifteen-fold by 2040, becoming a US$1 trillion industry. After successfully lowering the price of bottom-fixed projects, the next frontier for industry is floating offshore wind.
Floating wind unlocks new markets
A key factor driving the development and scaling of floating wind is the technology’s ability to unlock new markets for offshore wind development. An estimated 80% of global offshore wind resource is located in deep water areas (depths of more than 60m), where winds are typically stronger and more consistent, with the potential to yield superior capacity factors. The first larger capacity floating wind turbine (2.3MW) was installed and tested over a decade ago in Norway. Since then interest has increased as the viability and the scale of the technology has grown, with Hywind Scotland demonstrating a 30MW turbine – the largest floating turbine to-date.
The development of floating wind projects is currently focused across six countries in Europe and Asia. However, this will not always be the case. For some newer markets, such as the United States (US), where there is no installed floating capacity, over 50% of potential wind resource area is not suitable for bottom-fixed structures. Floating wind is therefore critical for geographies that do not have the appropriate sea bed conditions for bottom-fixed turbines to capitalise on the expanding offshore wind market, and to decarbonise their energy systems. Floating wind also creates opportunities to attract supply chain investment to new areas that may have lost out to established offshore wind regions.