Hydroelectric Hywind_havvindmølle-DOE-Maine

Published on December 10th, 2011 | by Susan Kraemer


Why DOE-Funded Floating Turbines May Change Future of Offshore Wind

December 10th, 2011 by  


This week, Statoil has an application for a pilot demonstration of their Hywind floating wind turbine 12 miles off the coast of Maine before the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for approval. The demo would be the fruition of a project begun in 2009, and funded by the Department of Energy.

Then Maine Governor John Baldacci had visited Norway to inspect Statoil’s Hywind floating turbine project with state and university officials and business leaders and encouraged Statoil to consider his state for deep-water testing of the commercial floating wind turbine technology in the Gulf of Maine. A return visit introduced Norway’s Statoil to turbine construction expertise in Maine, visiting the Vinalhaven wind turbines on the Fox Islands constructed by Cianbro.

Maine is a good site for the test, with deep coastal waters conducive to testing floating technologies and the University of Maine, with its DeepCWind Consortium and the public/private partnership at its  Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

The University of Maine had been the recipient of an $8 million federal grant in 2009 from the Department of Energy for wind energy research, with up to $5 million in addition subsequently. Four pilot sites off the coast of Maine were under consideration.

Pilot programs of ocean enrgy technology typically cost much more than $8 million. The inventor of the Waveroller told me in Finland that full scale pilot tests can be at least $100 million.  As in all manufacturing industries; that “first sample” can cost as much as ten times as much to produce as the same thing on a production line.

However, because Statoil already has a prototype of its Hywind floating turbine operating since last summer off the coast of Norway, this second one can be built for much less, even though, for the US, it would be a “pilot” project. Norway’s Statoil is the world leader in floating wind turbine development, so Maine made frugal use of DOE funds, getting a very big bang for the buck. There is another reason it is a good investment. Turbines have to be constructed nearby. It is not an import industry.

Maine has the skilled industrial employees ready and willing to work, who currently work for local companies such as Bath Iron Works and Cianbro, the turbine manufacturer that built the wind farm that delivers 100% of the electricity for Vinalhaven, one of the Fox Islands off the coast. Although Norway’s Statoil and Germany’s Siemens brought the expertise to the US, it is US workers that will benefit if the application is approved, the test is a success and offshore wind potential gets harnessed to provide clean energy here.

In this way, one of the smaller investments of the 2009 Recovery Act might in fact wind up unleashing one of the bigger results. Most of the world’s offshore wind is already a maturing industrial sector in Europe, with a staggering 141 GW of offshore wind in the pipeline.

In Europe offshore wind projects are going forward with turbines attached to the sea floor which limits suitable wind farm locations, and Europe is already up against those limits.

But the partnership between Statoil and the University of Maine on the floating model could instead yield a new kind of offshore wind industry in the US, starting from scratch with floating wind farms rather than attaching the turbines to the sea floor, opening up much more useful ocean territory to energy production, regardless of depths.

Because of greater ability to access stronger and more consistent winds deeper out at sea, floating turbines are possibly more economically efficient in the long term. Despite having had to learn from European companies to get started, the US could thus take offshore wind in a whole new direction and greatly expand it.

(Previous: EU Invades US for Energy Resource.)

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World.  She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

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  • ” Your skepticism over ‘different’ ideas ” — see, this is where i think you got lost. I’m ALL FOR new, innovative ideas — I write about them regularly and encourage writers here to cover them regularly. I think you’re picking a battle with someone who is not battling you 😀

  • Sorry, I was referring to offshore wind turbines in general (seems you didn’t catch that) — thought that’s what we were discussing. As far as areas where they need to be floating, I’m well aware that the best technology for those areas hasn’t been found yet.

    But, really, you’re throwing a lot of comments in here criticizing researchers working in this area (and myself) and it’s not clear why… unless it’s just that you have a concept you can’t get funding for..?

    Happy New Year!!

  • Dave2020, not sure why you are calling me a negative thinker. As I’ve pointed out, yes, I think we need to keep improving and coming up with better technologies. Perhaps you are right that there are better options out there already, but I assume that every country in the world pursuing offshore wind is pursuing HAWTs for a reason, Not to say they are the best concept or best option forever, but for deployment at the moment, I don’t think they are all pursuing this one technology purely out of ignorance and narrow-mindedness.

    Again, when it comes to the intermittency issue, i’m just pointing out that this is not an issue limiting wind deployment today (..positive thinking).

    But, again, I think we need to keep pursuing better technologies and am all for the testing, deployment of your technology if it trumps HAWTs!

    Good luck with your technology!

  • Dave2020: thanks for your comments.

    We certainly need to keep pursuing better and better technologies. That said, nothing competes with the HAWTs we have going up these days yet.
    Wind intermittency isn’t as big a deal as some make it out to be. http://cleantechnica.com/world-wind-power/6/ Some places have very high amounts of wind installed (e.g. Iowa, Denmark) and are doing quite fine with it.

    But, yeah, continued innovation is a must! (in nearly any industry) Cell phones were ready for mass use about 10 years ago, but they’ve changed a lot since then!

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  • Anonymous

    Seems like manufacturing and assembly will be much easier as these floaters can be finished up in harbors and then towed into place. No floating cranes, etc. No lost work days because the waves are up. No time spent ferrying work crews offshore.

    There might not even be a need to pour concrete offshore. Barges and cranes can deliver mooring blocks and lower them to the seafloor. Then tow the floater out and hook it up.

    Getting turbines further offshore generally means steadier winds and likely means less NIMBY resistance.

    We’ve got good offshore wind potential off the Southeast Coast, an area that doesn’t have much good onshore wind. And we’ve got tremendous offshore potential along the Pacific Northwest Coast.

    Offshore wind farms should be very beneficial for sea life. They will create areas that won’t be over fished by commercial operations. They should create some badly needed aquatic nurseries where species can breed and grow largely undisturbed.

  • Anonymous

    Eventually someone will figure out that you can add a wave turbine to the base of the unit. . .

    • Anonymous

      Perhaps. But I suspect the best wind is going to be some distance offshore and the best wave action closer in.

      At least that’s what a few years of blue water sailing taught me.

      • Anonymous

        I’ve always figured that they’d be a good spot for remote weather sensors and emergency radio relays.

        Thereby helping both with emergency assistance for boats/ships/aircraft as well as helping to provide meteorologists with more real-time weather data for analysis/forecasting.

        • Positive thinkers today – Such a rare blessing!

    • Interesting idea

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