Dedicated lease areas for floating offshore windfarms are the best way to drive development of the market, Principle Power’s chief executive believes
Recent months have seen further debate about the best way to drive the development of the floating offshore wind market from the pre-commercial stage to developing commercial-scale projects.
In the UK for instance, where the Johnson administration has committed to more offshore wind and to floating offshore wind, an amended contract for difference (CfD) auction scheme might see an ‘innovation pot’ for floating wind, it is suggested.
But although he welcomes the idea of a floating wind CfD or similar financial instruments, Principle Power chief executive João Metelo believes a final investment decision (FID) for the first commercial-scale floating windfarm is closer than many people believe, and the time has come for government agencies to drive the market towards maturity by designating lease areas exclusively for floating wind. Doing so would be the single most important driver of the floating segment of the market, he told OWJ.
“A floating wind CfD would be very welcome,” says Mr Metelo. “In France, they have already committed to tenders for pilot projects, but we believe the most important signal the market could receive by far would be designated lease areas for commercial-scale floating wind projects.”
More demonstration projects have also been proposed for floating, but like Aker Solutions – which has a 23% stake in Principle Power – whose head of offshore wind Astrid Onsum told OWJ that floating wind ‘doesn’t need demos any longer,’ Mr Metelo believes that WindFloat technology is ready and that government policy is actually what will help the market bridge the gap between pre-commercial projects and full-scale development.
Principle Power developed its technology by applying lessons from floating offshore oil and gas and the fixed offshore wind industry. In 2011, the company deployed WindFloat1, a full-scale 2-MW prototype off the coast of Portugal. WindFloat1 operated successfully between 2011 and 2016. It survived extreme weather conditions unscathed – including waves of up to 17 m and 60-knot winds – and demonstrated that the company had a sub-structure for floating wind turbines that was technically viable.
The WindFloat semi-submersible foundation is now “fully proven,” says Mr Metelo, with years of operational experience at sites in Portugal and Scotland, including the 50-MW Kincardine floating offshore windfarm off the coast of Scotland.
At the end of 2019, the WindFloat Atlantic project off the coast of Viana do Castelo in Portugal – the first floating windfarm in Continental Europe – was connected to the grid. It is currently undergoing final commissioning. Once all three turbines in the windfarm are fully operational, they will provide 25 MW of installed capacity. Another floating windfarm with Principle Power’s technology – the 30-MW Golfe du Lion project in the south of France – will come online between 2020 and 2022.
Looking further ahead, Mr Metelo tells OWJ Principle Power has secured technology exclusivity for commercial-scale projects totalling 3.8 GW and is tracking an additional 28 GW of floating wind under development.
“We are continuing to improve the WindFloat foundation. Generation 2 and 3 of WindFloat will see it ready for use with much larger turbines, but technology aside, one of the most important things to say about WindFloat is the WindFloat Atlantic project was the first bank-financed floating wind project in the world. That shows you that not only is the technology ready, but that lenders are comfortable with the concept of floating wind.”
Asked how long it might be before the first commercial-scale project for which it has an exclusivity agreement is awarded, Mr Metelo says, “We are tracking projects in Europe, the US and Asia. Some areas are more advanced than others. The technology is ready, it is a question of development timing.
“We believe that by the end of 2020, one or two projects might reach FID, certainly in the next couple of years. That would enable construction of the first projects to get underway from sometime in 2023/24. But I would emphasise, it is all about development timing – it is not technology driven because the technology is ready.
“If you compare where floating wind is today with bottom-fixed projects, and you look at the economics of some small-scale pre-commercial projects, you are looking at power at around €200 (US$216) per megawatt hour (MWh).
“Right now, for the first commercial-scale projects, we are looking at projects in the 200-300 MW size range,” said Mr Metelo. “At that size, a floating wind project would be much less expensive than those pre-commercial projects but would struggle to come in at €50-60 (US$54-65) per MWh, like the best bottom-fixed projects in Europe.
“But if you look at projects of that size with new-generation larger turbines – with an FID in the kind of timeframe we currently envisage – and you factor in the scale you get with larger projects, then the cost of floating wind begins to fall quickly, below €100 (US$108) MWh.
“And for larger projects, in the 500 MW size range, with even larger turbines, entering into operation around 2025, at that point floating wind becomes very competitive, especially when you factor in new ways to install turbines, that do not need huge installation vessels.”
Mr Metelo says in the mid-2020s, Principle Power is confident floating wind will be cost-competitive. “If you drew a graph showing the cost of bottom-fixed and floating, at that point the lines would cross and floating would be cost-competitive with bottom-fixed. And that is even before you begin to factor in the much better capacity factor that floating wind projects would enjoy,” he says.
As Mr Metelo also explains, Principle Power believes it is especially well-placed to take advantage of the market for floating wind because the WindFloat sub-structure is inherently scalable.
“It provides tremendous economies of scale,” he tells OWJ. “As you move to larger, next-generation turbines, the relationship between the capacity of the turbine and the cost of the sub-structure is not in any way linear. Larger and larger turbines do not mean significant growth in sub-structure cost. That is another important driver of cost-reduction. Also, it is relatively simple to assemble and install with all the heavy lifting operations happening onshore.
“We have no doubt the technology is on track to achieving cost competitiveness with conventional power, bottom-fixed offshore wind and other renewable resources.”