The emergence of Floating Wind Turbines

While Donald Trump have had a stare-off with Greta Thunberg in Washington over our planet’s future, great things have happened in the North Sea, as Mr. Trump himself would proclaim. The energy company Equinor, previously an oil company named Statoil, has just received a commission to build Hywind Tampen, the world’s fourth truly floating wind park. But what are floating wind turbines, where are we now, and is this a path into a slightly greener future.

What is floating wind power?

Different energy sources are already more cost efficient than fossil fuel among them are wind power, which is one of the important contributors as we collectively move towards renewables. Still, there are some disadvantages of land-based wind power, such as noise pollution and impact on wildlife and nature, which has led to a recent disgruntle towards new projects.

Different types of offshore wind turbines

Floating wind farms offer a solution, out of sight, out of mind, and with limited impact on nature. These meter 250-meter-tall structures are assembled far out in the sea and anchored, so they do not float out of position. They can withstand waves up to 19 meters, wind speeds of 40 m/s, and can be placed as deep as 800 meters[1], over ten times the maximum depth of fixed wind turbines.

The extra depth is one of the major benefits of floating wind farms. It increases the amount of possible offshore areas of development by 80%[2]. This also reduces pressure on vulnerable areas, such as coral reefs, which would be negatively impacted by the construction of fixed offshore turbines. Another benefit is an increased capacity due to a more regular and stable supply of wind, however, these structures are still more costly than other alternatives. So, what is the current situation?

The Current Situation

Some floating wind parks already exist, such as the Hywind park 15 miles off the coast of Aberdeen on Scottish territory, and a 5 MW structure 13 miles off the coast of Fukushima. Hywind park, which consist of five turbines, produced, at a far above industry average operating capacity of 65%, 30 MW during the first three months of production in 2017. At full capacity, the five turbines can generate enough power to sustain 20 000 UK households.[3]

Hywind Tampen is the most recent floating wind park project, 11 turbines will power five offshore oil platforms; Snorre A and B, and Gullfaks A, B and C. The 500 million Euro project is situated 140 km offshore and it is estimated that it will cut emissions by 200 000 tons of CO2 per year, equal to the yearly emissions of 100 000 cars.[4]

Another ongoing project is outside the coast of Portugal, where a consortium of utility companies (EDP, ENGIE and Repsol, and clean energy firm Principle Power) are building three turbines with 25 MW capacity, the first of which is expected to be finalized in the end of 2019.[5]

What does the future hold?

The few finished and ongoing projects are all described as initial and heavily funded by governments, as the projects would not be profitable without subsidies, however, as cost continue to drop, we can expect a rapid expansion in the development of floating wind power in the future. A report from the Paris-based International Energy Agency says that investment in offshore wind turbines will reach up to 1 trillion dollars by 2040[6] and most of these funds will be directed towards floating wind turbines. Equinor predicts the energy production from floating wind turbines to increase to more than 12,000 MW, powering 7.8 million households by 2030. According to experts, 80%[7] of offshore wind potential is located in deep waters. Therefore, you can expect to hear a lot more news regarding the emerging and cutting-edge industry of the floating wind turbines industry in the coming years.