As we look for more options to generate more power from the wind, innovative options like floating wind farms are fast moving from concept to reality.
There are a number of benefits of floating wind. Because they are not limited by water depth or ground conditions – which have a significant impact on fixed offshore wind farms – floating wind can be deployed further offshore, meaning increased wind exploitation from a larger wind resource base. The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimated in 2013 that 80% of the offshore wind resource in Europe was in water over 60m deep – that’s the potential to deploy around 4000GW of floating wind.
To put that into perspective, according to Renewable UK, there are currently about 5GW of offshore wind (fixed to the ground) installed which powers several million homes each year. The NREL estimated a figure of 2450GW in the water around the USA and around 500GW for Japan.
One of the major factors in developing floating wind farms is the design of the foundations. The early stages of developing this technology mean that the level of innovation currently underway is very exciting. There are over 30 floating wind concepts under development and this range of ideas has led to the creation of several different foundation options – from spars to semi submersibles, multi-turbine platforms to hybrid wind/wave devices.
In fact, Atkins has been involved in developing an improved assembly and installation sequence option for Statoil’s Hywind project (which uses a spar as its foundation), and we’re working with Hexicon to design the world’s first multi-turbine offshore wind floating platform which will be deployed at the Dounreay Tri Project off the Scottish north coast. This project has recently moved into the detailed design phase meaning that it has got another step closer to becoming a reality.
But a number of challenges exist around floating wind and it is important to recognise these too. It’s still a developing technology and as such confidentiality around intellectual property limits pooling of industry knowledge and technology development. This is one of the reasons that we see so many different concepts in early stage. There’s definitely scope for the industry to work more closely together – in fact, we’ve recently helped establish the Friends of Floating Offshore Wind group, a collaboration between almost a dozen companies working in the offshore renewables sector to promote the development of floating wind in the UK. That group is already meeting with important stakeholders across the country to promote the economic and climate benefits of maintaining the UK’s leading position as an offshore wind developer.
Several challenges have been identified as key requirements for both demonstration and pilot projects, such as improving the consenting process, setting up a support mechanism as well as introducing regulations that allow for the preferential reservation and connection of demonstration projects to the electricity grid. The group is aiming to create favourable conditions for the further development of the sector in these areas.
Innovation is one of the key’s to unlocking the full, commercial scale potential of floating wind and, whilst it might be a number of years before we see the first commercial scale floating wind farm come into operation, the pace of change in the industry shows just how far the technology has come in a relatively short space of time.