'Matter of time' before floating wind is competitive power source
It is only 'a matter of time' before floating offshore wind farms become an important source of clean power in several countries around the world, including Scotland, the US and Japan, according to one industry expert.
Maurice Jenkens, the international business development director at Swedish floating wind developer Hexicon, says there are certain countries – which are surrounded by deep waters – where traditional offshore projects are not feasible on a large scale and thus the only choice will be floating turbines.
Jenkens said these countries, including Japan, Taiwan, the US, and – uniquely, in Europe – Scotland, were Hexicon’s target markets going forward.
Speaking exclusively to edie, Jenkens said: “Floating energy will never take off in Denmark, Belgium and Holland because they have shallow waters, and plenty of them, where it’s still significantly cheaper to build standard offshore turbines.
He added that England and Wale also had too much shallow water to make floating projects viable in the near future. Traditional offshore wind can be deployed in waters up to 50 metres deep.
Floating turbines are essentially what the name suggests. Standard offshore turbines are mounted on buoyant platforms, then dragged out to sea and anchored at a chosen site.
The process offers major advantages: the ‘installation’ can be done in a day, up to 90% more cheaply than a standard offshore project, according to a study Hexicon recently carried out in the North Sea.
“But that’s not a big surprise,” Jenkens said. “Months drilling away in the North Sea compared to tugging the whole installation out in a day – there’s no comparison, it de-risks the whole process.”
The projects are also not subject to geographical restrictions and can be situated where wind speeds are highest, helping to maximise output.
However, there are also significant drawbacks to floating wind technology - primarily the cost. Currently, the platform foundations require enormous amounts of steel and expensive materials, meaning that the current cost per megawatt hour is around €140 for floating wind, compared to around €110 for standard offshore wind.
“But if you remove six years of R&D then you have a different pricing picture,” added Jenkens. He cited a Carbon Trust report which estimated that floating wind-power could outcompete conventional offshore in waters deeper than 40 metres within the next 20-30 years.
“It’s still a new technology and still needs massive investment to reach this tipping point, but inevitably that’s going to happen.
“Improvements are going to be made in the foundations, because they’re too heavy and too expensive today, and they make up a third of the costs. The turbines are also getting bigger across the industry, which we welcome, and that’s another third of the costs.”
There are several individual floating turbines installed across the planet, the largest being a 7MW turbine in Fukushima, Japan. The French and Scottish Governments also have open tenders to build mini-parks of around five turbines in the next two to three years.
Jenkens estimates we will see the first industrial-scale floating wind park of around 200MW within the next 10 years, with costs potentially falling below €100 per megawatt hour.
“Its going to take 10 years of massive investment,” Jenkens said. “But time is the only real obstacle.”