Offshore wind energy has become a thriving industry in many countries with long coastlines and shallow waters. However, as today's offshore wind turbines are restricted to waters less than 50 meters deep, not all countries can utilize the favorable offshore winds due to scarcity of suitable shallow water. Floating offshore wind turbines present a solution to this challenge. Kept in position by a mooring system rather than being rooted to the seabed, they allow access to deep-water sites – and with it access to new markets.

The advantages of floating wind energy are many. Most importantly, winds speeds can be faster and more consistent farther from shore. This means floating offshore wind farms can produce more energy. Secondly, more countries with limited coastlines for bottom-fixed turbines can deploy large-scale floating offshore wind energy. In addition, the location of floating wind farms farther from shore may also draw less opposition from residents living along the coast.

Scaling for the future

The floating wind industry is just scratching the surface. To realize its full potential, the challenge is to move from costly demonstrations to commercially viable models that can be widely deployed. At this point, floating turbines are still more expensive than bottom-fixed turbines. For costs to come down, it is crucial to build experience and volume within the industry. To reduce risk and cover initial development costs, governments therefore need to provide regulatory support through subsidies enough to develop large-scale farms. This will help bridge the gap for stakeholders to make investments that will enable the industry to mature and stand on its own feet.

At the present time, there are many different concepts in the market – spar-buoy, semi-submersible and tension-leg being the leading types – but they have yet to be tested and proven for large-scale floating foundations. While there will not be a 'one-size-fits-all' floating concept, a handful of designs will most likely dominate the market, although it is still too early to say which will win the race.

Global collaboration is imperative

As companies start to move from early-stage concept through commercial deployment, industry stakeholders need to collaborate to rethink the entire value chain of construction, transportation and assembly of the turbines. For the floating wind industry to mature and become a serious source of renewable power, key players in the supply chain will need to start developing technology specifically for floating systems. Bridging the gap between suppliers is critical for the industry to reach commercial scale, and in the end to bridge the global energy gap.

High risk, high reward

Once technologies, supply chain and offshore markets have matured, floating wind energy should become competitive with other renewable sources of energy. By 2028, a few lead markets may be able to drive fully commercial floating wind projects. However, it is crucial for the development of floating wind energy that the first large-scale projects are realized as quickly as possible, if costs are to become competitive compared to those of bottom-fixed offshore energy. It is a 'high risk, high reward' strategy, but provided the right regulatory framework and drawing on the current offshore expertise, the floating offshore wind industry is on the verge of an accelerated journey to bring the technology on par with bottom-fixed energy.

Key markets

Based on their level of commercial activity and regulatory support, five markets show sizeable potential for floating offshore wind technology. The markets with the largest potential are characterized by highly developed economies and high population density near deep-water coastlines.

*FOW = Floating offshore wind

 

France

 

  • Total FOW potential: 570 GW
  • State support of four demonstration projects
  • Willingness to invest in future commercial projects
  • Leading position in Europe

 

Norway

 

  • Total FOW potential: 3470 GW
  • A promising opportunity to develop an export industry
  • Great opportunity to generate energy for offshore O&G industry (substituting use of fossil fuels)
  • State-owned Equinor is a first mover within the industry

 

South Korea

 

  • Total FOW potential: 430 GW
  • Strong need for renewable energy due to high power prices and a high carbon emission footprint
  • Potential offshore sites are deep-water locations
  • Projects are in the pipeline, although the supply chain is relatively immature

 

USA

 

  • Total FOW potential: 1460 GW
  • West coast waters are too deep for bottom-fixed turbines
  • California has a significant need for renewable energy
  • Lack of public subsidies, immature supply chain and challenging geophysical conditions

 

Japan

 

  • Total FOW potential: 2410 GW
  • Strong need to build up renewable generation capacity post-Fukushima
  • Generous feed-in-tariff to support offshore wind
  • Bottom-fixed potential insufficient tofulfil Japan's needs, so floating wind technology is likely to fill the gaps

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Oleg Lerner
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