Floating offshore wind (FLOW) has long been hailed as the pivotal technology for the globalisation of offshore wind. It will unlock vast new areas of sea with high wind speeds, enabling offshore wind to reach over 1,500 GW of operational capacity by 2050. Without cost-effective FLOW, there is unlikely to be any significant offshore wind development off the US West Coast, Japan, Norway and many other markets. There are hundreds of floating offshore wind projects under development around the world.

Nevertheless, it remains a pre-commercial technology. There are no commercial-scale floating projects past final investment decision let alone in operation. Many questions remain open, such as how much will it cost, which of the 100 plus designs will be successful, or will major repairs be done at site or in port?

Some common myths include:

Myth 1: Floating offshore wind will compete directly with bottom fixed. Proponents argue that FLOW will unlock vast new areas of seabed with higher wind speeds that will outcompete bottom-fixed wind. In reality, FLOW will most almost certainly not compete on price alone (as the value for money of fixed installations is still improving). So, it will often need a considerably higher wind speed to make it viable. Therefore, we expect that where there are options to develop either fixed or FLOW, fixed development will be first. We see them, therefore, as complementing each other rather than directly competing. In a few countries, such as the UK, both will be developed but significant capacity from Scotwind and the Celtic Sea will come after 2030 when many of the best sites for fixed have already been developed.

Myth 2: The lightest substructure is the best. Proponents argue that reduced structural mass leads to lower manufacturing, transport and installation costs. The developers we spoke to value deliverability, reliability and bankability in early projects. While they are aware of innovators’ lighter designs, much broader set of decision criteria are in play during the early years of industry.

Myth 3: Standardisation requires the mass production of identical substructure designs. The supply chain is sometimes heard asking for standardisation and scale as the best ways to reduce costs. The reality is more nuanced than identical designs and sheer volume. What is important is the standardisation of manufacturing process parameters to allow the same facility to produce several substructure designs, and their variants for different metocean conditions or turbines. Volume will not enable industrialisation on its own, rather it is confidence in forward orders that will enable investment. This in turn comes, for example, from supply chain collaborations and capacity reservations.

Myth 4: Necessity of local benefit at a single-project level. Many stakeholders ask, quite reasonably, for a “just transition”, where legacy jobs in oil and gas are migrated into the green industries of the future. As a result local content and benefit requirements are often required from offshore wind projects, but we think these should look beyond individual projects’ local benefit. For example, manufacturing investments are unlikely to pay off if facilities can only supply specific local projects. Greater benefit arises when investments can serve many projects, perhaps across different countries. A sustainable solution may be to create supply networks that industrialise the manufacture of components, then transport them to final assembly ports.

Myths, unproven technology, a confusing number of solutions and unclear costs are far from ideal conditions for encouraging new market entrants. Potential new entrants need insight to drive better investment certainty. The right action needs clarity, understanding and informed knowledge.

To inform and educate was the motivation for development of the new Guide to a Floating Offshore Wind Farm (guidetofloatingoffshorewind.com/). BVGA was commissioned to create it by the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult on behalf of its Floating Wind Centre of Excellence, The Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland. It provides a reliable and easily accessible introduction for people new to the industry and those wanting to dig deeper. It is intended for use by developers, the supply chain, regulatory organisations and students.

The Floating Guide is an interactive website. It describes floating offshore wind technology, lifecycle processes, supply chain, costs, and the wider market potential. It shows an interactive journey of the development, manufacture, installation and maintenance of a floating offshore wind farm. The Floating Guide also includes key comparisons between fixed and floating offshore wind. For the supply chain, it maps this growth as well as current and future opportunities. It includes examples of supply chain organisations already in floating offshore wind developments. Although some sections are UK specific, most content is applicable globally.

Key industry players were heavily consulted as part of its development. This ensures a realistic view, balancing optimism and risks, and at a level that balances usefulness with detail. The Floating Guide makes gaining clarity, understanding and informed knowledge about floating offshore wind accessible to all. To make the report digestible and the website useable, simplifying assumptions have been made. For example, it does not describe each of the 100-plus substructure variants promoted by their innovators. At this early stage in the lifecycle of the industry some norms have not yet been established, we have spoken to experts to either say “this is the most likely way forward” or “it is expected to be one of these options.”

The development of the floating offshore wind industry needs reliable and understandable sources of information, like the Floating Guide.

Chris Willow of RWE and Floating offshore wind Centre of Excellence co-chair said:

“Floating Wind is a rapidly growing industry that is going to create a big demand for specialist skills around the world, covering everything from engineering, consenting, commercial analysis and policy making. It is essential that newcomers to the industry have the information they need to educate themselves quickly about the technology, its costs and its supply chain. The Floating Wind Centre of Excellence is working hard to help build the industry and I hope that this ‘Guide to a Floating Offshore Wind Farm’ will be a great way for people to understand more so that they can see how they can contribute.”

Andy Strowbridge