As Bruce stated in his blog yesterday, 2016 is a key year for renewables. The Offshore wind industry must continue its push towards subsidy free, driving down its holistic, full-life cost of energy.
There are significant incremental cost savings from developments to the current horizontal axis turbine technologies mounted on fixed foundations. This includes innovations in areas such as turbine size, two-bladed turbines, downwind rotors, transmission arrangements, repowering and life extension of projects. Progress in many sub-components, from more robust power electronics to higher performing lubricants will also drive down costs. In combination, these evolutions are expected to deliver subsidy-free energy from offshore wind by the mid-2020s.
You might, then, wonder why it’s worth bothering with so-called ‘disruptive’ alternatives, such as vertical axis turbines, multi-rotor turbines, floating foundations, float-out and sink foundations and airborne wind systems. The answer is two-fold.
Firstly, some of these technologies will expand the reach of offshore wind to areas not viable with current technology. For example, sites with very deep-water or very soft soils are not economically sustainable with conventional bottom-fixed, piled foundations.
Secondly, with some of these technologies, the potential cost of energy benefit is so significant that it justifies the potential development costs and risks.
In our view, while many disruptive technologies have merit, two stand out as the most interesting:
• Airborne wind systems, for their potential to reduce costs through reduced material mass and access to higher wind speeds at higher altitudes
• New foundations, including floating foundations to open up sites with deep water and good winds close to population centres and float-out-and-sink foundations to reduce installation costs and risks
We’ve already seen a high level of activity in both these areas and expect that to increase over the next few years. The pace of innovation in offshore wind is such that these will not be the only technologies that will see an increase in activity. The industry in 2016 and beyond must continue invest in both true innovation and in incremental improvement to drive down cost. With both evolutionary and revolutionary innovation combined, the industry can cross the bridge to subsidy free and then establish as a truly global source of clean, safe, low-cost and local energy.