Offshore wind has enormous potential and is expected to play a big role in future energy mix. However, 80% of the world’s offshore wind resource potential lies in waters deeper than 60 metres. To fully harvest the global offshore wind potential and expedite the energy transition and maintain a 1.5°C pathway in line with IPCC recommendation, it has become imperative for the wind industry to quickly commercialise floating wind technology.
Benefits of floating wind technology
As well as providing even better wind resources and larger technical potential than bottom-fixed offshore wind, floating wind could help create socio-economic benefits such as jobs and facilitate a smooth energy transition by bringing expertise from the Oil and Gas (O&G) industry into offshore wind while re-skilling workers who may be dislocated from the fossil fuel sectors Northern Europe, the US and the east coast of China have maximum nearshore water depths of 30-50 metres favourable for bottom-fixed offshore wind.
Although different floating wind technologies have been tested through demonstration and pilot projects in the past decades, current floater production is not industrialised yet and has just entered the pre-commercial phase. However, floating wind installations are likely to take off from 2025 (when four 150-200 MW floating projects will be online) and full commercialisation is expected to be achieved by the end of this decade.
There are three basic floating base types which are mainly derived from oil and gas experience namely, Deepwater floating Spar, Semisubmersible and Tension-leg platform (TLP). In the past, the deep-water floating spar was most used in floating pedestals, but the development of the semi-submersible floating base has gained popularity.
According to GWEC Market Intelligence’s global floating offshore wind database, and a study completed by University of Strathclyde Glasgow, the direction of floating base development will be to design a common floating platform that can host several types of a turbines, combined with hybrid renewable energy sources such as wave, solar and Power to X generation.
Major companies for floating offshore wind energy
Equinor, a pioneer in floating wind, was recently joined by other oil majors, such as Shell and Total, to start working in partnership with the utilities/developer in the floating offshore wind business segment. Aside from the Hywind Tampen project in North Sea to be built by 2022, Equinor plans to develop floating wind projects in Spain, Greece and South Korea.
Through the partnership with Korea National Oil Corporation (KNOC), Equinor recently commenced LiDAR installations to conduct metocean data measurements for a potential 800 MW floating offshore wind project in South Korea. In early 2019, Shell joined seven other partners and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Ulsan in South Korea to explore large-scale floating offshore wind development. Shell also took over EOLFI, a pure-play French floating wind developer, to enhance its existing expertise in the floating wind section at the end of that year.
Following a partnership established with Simply Blue Energy in March 2020 to develop a 96 MW floating project in the Celtic Sea, UK, the French oil major Total joined Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult’s national Floating Offshore Wind Centre of Excellence (FOWCoE) together with Shell, Equinor and other seven offshore wind developers in summer 2020.
Following a commitment made in 2018 through Innogy to build the TetraSpar demonstration project with Shell in Norway, RWE Renewables has set up a joint pilot project DemoSATH with Spanish Saitec Offshore Technologies to start testing it offshore the Basque Coast in Spain where the Spanish Iberdrola decided to step into the floating wind business sector as well. The utility is now leading a consortium aiming to test a 10+ MW floating turbine at the FLAGSHIP project in Norway and also plans to deploy another floating wind power prototype in Spain.
In France, French utility EDF has been supporting the development of floating technology and will soon install the 25 MW Provence Grand floating project in the Mediterranean. In Germany, utilities EnBW joined forces with Aerodyn to accelerate the commercial development of the radical 15MW Nezzy2 twin-rotor offshore floater.
In Spain, through the offshore wind joint-venture created in 2019, European utilities EDP and Engie are also interested in floating wind. In China, CTG announced the plan to launch its first floating offshore tender for a pilot project off Guangdong province in 2021 and CGN also invested in Eolfi’s 24 MW floating project in France.
There is a long list of technology providers who are active in the floating wind sector, some of whom focus purely on floating design. Those who have already installed floating turbines include Principle Power and IDEOL and those who are installing or are ready to install a floating turbine project include Stiesdal OT, Saitec, Naval Energies, Olav Olsen, Saipem and SBM Offshore.
In 2020, two French floater designers expanded their business development out of Europe. Aside from exploring opportunities in Europe, the France-based pure floating foundations player Ideol signed a MOU with Kerogen Capital in May 2020 to assess the benefits of using offshore wind to power oil & gas platforms in South Korea.
Naval Energies, a sub-system engineering firm with floating project already locked in France, signed a MOU with Japanese partner Hitachi Zosen to extend their collaboration after completing a floating wind technology feasibility study in Japan in June 2020. In the same month, the company also joined the Offshore Wind California coalition, which gathers offshore wind developers and technology companies supporting a goal of 10 GW of installed offshore wind capacity in California by 2040.
Floating wind technology will usher in renewed hope for the renewable energy market in the post-COVID era.