Floating offshore wind is generating increasing interest in the offshore wind industry. While commercial deployments remain a number of years away, several pilot projects are under development.
Offshore wind with foundations fixed to the seabed has performed admirably in shallow water sites of less than about 50m; costs have been reduced, AEP has been increased and supply chains have been developed. Much of the global resource is however in deeper waters and this is where the next opportunity lies; floating offshore wind could be the key to unlocking this opportunity.
Floating offshore wind certainly addresses a number of inherent issues such as reducing the amount of offshore activity and avoiding the use of heavy-lift vessels. As things stand, floating offshore wind, remains a more costly option than the fixed equivalent. Over the coming years, we expect that much of this cost will be removed as deployments increase and learning is implemented. The biggest opportunity for cost reduction is in the floating structure itself where the cost per tonne remains high for most concepts. Where deep water is close to shore, floating wind farms can also offer considerable transmission costs savings. Currently, much of the innovation in floating offshore wind is being driven by relatively small organisations and the industry certainly needs further public support and investments by some larger players to speed up progress.
Of course, water depth is not the only reason close to shore development can be difficult. The impact on marine vistas, shipping lanes and ecology are also potential barriers. The RSPB recently won its case to overturn the consent for 2.3GW of fixed offshore wind off the Scottish coast due to the perceived impact on seabird migration. Within a few weeks of that announcement the Scottish Government has appealed that decision and the RSPB has called on the UK Government to support the development of deep water technologies including floating wind. There is some posturing going on and technologies such as floating wind designed specifically for deep water could stand to benefit.
Political commitment is essential in establishing a new capital-intensive industry; the Scottish Government has aggressively supported floating offshore wind. France has recently awarded tenders for floating offshore wind projects and Japan responded to their nuclear crisis by supporting floating offshore wind in Fukushima. The end of the Renewable Obligation scheme, however, has removed the flexibility that Scotland once had to provide enhanced subsidies to developers. Perhaps the combination of new energy ministers north and south of the border as well as a successful RSPB court case against fixed near shore consents will provide the political motivation to provide additional support to floating offshore wind.
Watch this space.