October 2019 saw the first floating foundation and turbine for the WindFloat Atlantic project off the coast of Viana do Castelo in Portugal commence being towed to its destination, and WindPower Korea, EDP Renewables and Aker Solutions form a consortium to develop a 500-MW floating windfarm off South Korea
It also saw Equinor and the Snorre and Gullfaks partners take a final investment decision to develop the Hywind Tampen offshore windfarm, and a coalition of wind industry leaders launch Offshore Wind California, whose goal is to develop 10 GW of floating wind in the Golden State by 2040.
Interest in floating wind is growing rapidly, but in the UK, which has led the world in the development of bottom-fixed offshore wind, additional government support is required to ensure it remains a leader in deploying floating wind. That is the conclusion of a new report, Offshore wind, ready to float? Global and UK trends in the floating offshore wind market, from University of Strathclyde. By 2030, the report estimates that global floating wind capacity could be 4.3 GW, approximately half the UK’s current offshore wind capacity. As it also noted, and as highlighted above, there are signs that floating wind technology is moving closer to commercialisation, with larger turbines deployed in deeper, more remote waters.
Today, the UK leads deployment of floating offshore wind, with 56% of installed capacity, but its lead could be challenged by the US, Japan and France. The UK’s two flagship floating wind projects relied heavily on government subsidy and a mostly non-UK supply chain. No UK firm currently designs and manufacturers floating wind foundations at scale, leaving the country reliant on imported technology to deliver floating wind projects.
Looking forward, the report says the recent discontinuation of subsidies for floating wind and Brexit’s potential impact on the UK’s access to goods, services and labour from the EU present a material threat to the UK’s lead in the sector. It makes five recommendations to support the growth of the UK floating wind market. These include introducing a long-term subsidy for floating wind projects that offers a guaranteed level of subsidy over a specified number of years, such as a contracts for difference pot for pre-commercial technology.
The UK and devolved governments should also move to retain access to EU demonstration funding post-Brexit. If unsuccessful, their own funds must cover any shortfall, with a focus on demonstration grants and government-backed finance. There is also a need to assess how Brexit will affect cost and delivery timelines, as well as the financial performance of UK offshore wind companies.
Consideration should be given to what trading arrangements will support the future growth of floating wind in the UK and Europe more widely. Another recommendation is that the UK should fund a study to identify potential niche markets for floating wind, alongside associated cost benefits and barriers to deployment. This would inform policy design to support expanding commercial floating wind. The final recommendation is that the UK should increase domestic content by helping firms already operating in the floating wind sector, or other sectors with synergistic capabilities, to transition into it.
“Our inability to generate wind power cost-effectively from deep water presents a potential bottleneck to the future expansion of UK offshore wind, especially the deep waters surrounding Scotland,” the authors of the report say. “Floating wind technology present the key to removing this constraint, by unlocking an untapped wind resource from deeper, more remote waters.” But as they conclude, “Although there are challenges in moving any technology to a large-scale commercial footing, the size of the global prize means investments made today in skills, infrastructure and supply chain development to support the floating offshore market could pay huge dividends in future.”