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The floating offshore wind industry is having a breakthrough moment with Scotland in the lead, France coming on strong, and the US...well, um...

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France To Floating Offshore Wind Industry: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

The floating offshore wind industry is having a breakthrough moment with Scotland in the lead, France coming on strong, and the US…well, um…

The floating offshore wind industry has been cranking up a good head of steam this year, thanks partly to France. That’s something of a stealth move, considering that other EU countries like Scotland have been grabbing most of the floating wind turbine headlines. However, it looks like France gets a turn in the spotlight now.

The sudden growth spurt of the floating offshore wind market is significant because an estimated 80% of global offshore wind energy is located in waters that are too deep to make sense for conventional, fixed-foundation turbines.

October A Big Month For Floating Offshore Wind Turbines

One key breakthrough in the floating offshore wind market occurred just last month, when Scotland’s Hywind offshore wind farm cranked up operations.

The closely watched project is regarded as the tipping point between pilot-scale R&D projects and full commercialization.

Hywind is also marks an important turning point for legacy oil and gas stakeholders that are transitioning into renewables. It was developed by Statoil, which has now dubbed itself “the global leader in floating offshore wind.”

In another development with broader significance, France’s first Floatgen project was completed in October and is ready to be positioned offshore. The project was able to leap ahead of at least six larger bottom-fixed offshore wind projects, which were delayed partly due to permitting and “local content” issues — two factors that can be minimized in the floating turbine field.

Kerry Chamberlain of Energy News Update has a good rundown on the state of the floating turbine field in Europe. Do follow the link for full details, but for those of you on the go the gist of it is that the technology is proven and economies of scale are kicking in, opening the floodgates to development:

Commercial floating wind projects are to be commissioned in UK, Ireland, France and Portugal in the coming years and developers expect wider deployment to drive down costs as projects benefit from installation experience, economies of series and rising investor confidence.

What Is Floatgen?

Floatgen has been sailing under the CleanTechnica radar, so it’s time for a little catching-up.

Floatgen is a public-private-academic EU consortium coordinated by Ideol, aimed partly at establishing proof of feasibility and assessing costs. Another key goal is to  bring floating wind resources closer to their end users on the Continent.

The floating base was constructed near the Forme Joubert lock and was provided with a sendoff in “true naval fashion” on October 13, in advance of being towed out to sea.

Don’t hold your breath just yet — according to the timeline, the full assembly won’t be towed out to its position at Centrale Nantes until some time next year, and then a demonstration and shakeout period follows.

Full commissioning is expected in 2019.

Ideol expects things to move along at a rapid clip after that. The political winds are tilting heavily in favor of commercialization, with six gigawatts as a realistic goal split between Atlantic and Mediterranean applications. Here’s another snippet from the Chamberlain story:

As it moves towards commercial tenders, France is also supporting the development of four pre-commercial (pilot) projects for a total capacity 96 MW. The projects will be sited in Mediterranean and Atlantic waters and due online by 2021. Ideol is a partner in the Quadran-led EolMed consortium developing a 25 MW pilot (pre-commercial) plant at the Grussian site in the Mediterranean.

What Now, USA?

Considering President* Trump’s well known antipathy to renewable energy in particular and offshore wind in particular, it’s a safe bet that the US offshore wind industry will be treading water, so to speak, until there is a more wind-friendly occupant in the Oval Office.

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy is pushing ahead with some basic R&D that could position the US for global floating wind leadership.

In the latest news — coincidentally, also in October — the Energy Department touted a new study from Sandia National Laboratories that compares the levelized cost of energy for six different floating offshore platform designs.

For those of you keeping score at home, the “tension-leg” concept emerged as the leader of the pack:

Shorter mooring cables and lower installation costs reduce the TLP’s cost. The system is designed to be towed offshore with the rotor installed, an advantage that makes installation cheaper…

Stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter.

*As of this writing.

Image: via US Department of Energy.


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Written By

Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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