After years of only being an ambitious concept, the world’s first floating wind farm is now a reality. Two turbines were floated off the coast of Norway earlier this week, and five more are waiting to be tugged across the sea where they will remain stationed off Northeast Scotland.
The $260 million Hywind project is unusual for a couple of reasons. The first is, of course, the project utilizes some innovative technology: a large floating turbine coupled with a 78-meter-tall (256 ft) underwater ballast and a few mooring lines to help keep the turbine upright. Also unusual is the fact that the developer of the project is not a renewable energy company. Statoil is a Norway-based oil firm looking to diversify its energy profile away from fossil fuels.
“It’s almost unlimited. Currently, we are saying [floating windfarms will work in] water depths of between 100 and 700 meters, but I think we can go deeper than that. It opens up ocean that was unavailable,” said Irene Rummelhoff, head of the Statoil’s low-carbon division.
Offshore wind farms offer the possibility of wind power in many areas where it was previously impossible to install wind turbines. The large, traditionally fixed-bottom turbines can only be installed in water depths down to 40 meters (131 ft), making them impractical for use in places like the US West Coast or Japan which have deeply shelved coastlines.
“If you look at coastlines around the world, there’s few that have sufficient area at depths down to 40 meters so if they want to deploy offshore wind, they need to introduce floating wind,” Rummelhoff said.
Advocates for floating turbine wind plants say that the new form of turbine could end up overshadowing the traditional fixed-bottom ones in the long run.
“Looking to the next decades, there might be a point where floating is bigger than fixed based,” speculates Stephan Barth of IEA Wind, an intergovernmental agency which covers wind power for 21 countries.
According to Statoil, floating wind projects would cost the same as conventional offshore wind farms by 2030, while IEA reports that the cost a day was the same as a fixed the bottom wind project a decade ago.
Statoil is looking to expand their floating wind projects into waters around European countries like the UK, off the coast of Hawaii, California, Japan and South Korea.