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The Race For Floating Wind Farms Has Begun

For the last six years Statoil has been testing game-changing offshore wind technology. The result: a floating wind turbine has been pulled from Norway to Scotland where the world’s first floating wind farm will be installed.

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The £190m Hywind project will ultimately see five 6 MW floating turbines in depths of up to 120m in an area close to 4km close to Peterhead. Each tower is taller than Big Ben, at 175m and the blades themselves are almost the wingspan of an Airbus at 75m long. At the bottom of each turbine is a 78m deep tube which is filled with iron ore. Average wind speeds here reach 10m per second and it’s expected it’ll provide enough power for around 20,000 homes.

Hywind is building on a demo project that was run off the island of Karmøy. The turbines are being dragged from this site by remote-controlled submarines. What’s exciting is that Statoil claims this next stage achieved a 60-70% cost reduction per MW. Irene Rummelhoff, executive VP for New Energy Solutions said:

“Our objective with the Hywind pilot park is to demonstrate the feasibility of future commercial, utility-scale floating wind farms. This will further increase the global market potential for offshore wind energy, contributing to realising our ambition of profitable growth in renewable energy and other low-carbon solutions.”

According to Quartz, the critical advance is new software and responsive blades: “Statoil developed some nifty software that twists the blades of the floating turbine in response to the motions of the wind, waves, and ocean currents. These dynamic blades, along with ballast at the base of the structure, keep the 175-meter tall, 10,000-metric ton turbines (574 feet, 11,00 short tons) upright. The floating structures can operate in water as deep as 1,000 meters.”

This is when it becomes really interesting. Where waters are deep, developers haven’t been able to consider turning to offshore wind production because of prohibitive costs. But floating wind farms could be the answer.

A number of countries are experimenting with floating offshore farms. Government-sponsored turbines are being installed off the North East of Japan, Portugal is already seeing energy being generated by a 2MW demo project called WindFloat, in France there is a proposal to develop a 24MW floating wind farm and a Danish developer is trying to bring a 51-turbine farm to Hawaii.

Off California’s Central Coast on Morro Bay, a now disused gas plant could hold the key to the next stage of the US energy revolution. A start-up base in Seattle is proposing what would be the world’s largest floating wind farm. The ambitious plans would see 60-100 turbines able to produce a gigawatt of electricity. Getting the electricity back to land could have been problematic except a tunnel created decades ago by the power plant to carry wastewater already exists. Alla Winstein, founder of the group Trident Winds, said:

“Demand for energy continues to grow. A convergence of factors leads to a need for more renewable energy. The technology is maturing.”

Statoil’s collaborators in the Hywind project is Siemens Gamesa. Renewable Energy offshore CEO Michael Hannibal said:

“Siemens Gamesa views the floating windfarm market area the same way as we did with offshore windfarms in the early beginning: it is a very interesting area that is initially a niche market. This niche may, however, develop over time into a large market. It is a niche in which we would like to build a strong position for this reason.”