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Published on March 1st, 2020 | by Tina Casey

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Plot Thickens Around Floating Offshore Wind Farm Mystery Tour

March 1st, 2020 by  


Why, it seems like only yesterday that US Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette told members of Congress to go ahead and slash many dollars from his renewable energy budget, since most of the good stuff is now available commercially. Hey, he might be on to something. Take the agency’s floating offshore wind program, for example. Not too long ago floating wind turbines were a dream, and now they are a thing. In fact, a “secret” group of US officials is bound for Scotland next week, where they will eyeball a new floating offshore wind farm, which happens to deploy technology developed by a US company with an assist from — you guessed it — the Energy Department.

offshore wind floating turbines

Floating offshore wind turbine on platform developed by the US-based firm Principle Power (photo courtesy of Principle Power via US Department of Energy).

Floating Offshore Wind Turbines & The Energy Dept.

The wind farm in question is the Kincardine Floating Offshore Wind Farm, an array of five Vestas turbines under construction about 15 kilometers off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland.

The turbines are pretty interesting, but what is really interesting is the floating foundations for the turbines.

They were developed under the name WindFloat by the California-based firm Principle Power. If that rings some bells, it should. Back in 2009, CleanTechnica took note of the company’s floating offshore platform in relation to a wave energy R&D project funded by the Energy Department.

In 2012, the company won Energy Department funding for a proposed 30-megawatt floating offshore wind farm, to be hosted by the state of Oregon. State officials ultimately failed to take the regulatory steps needed to get the project moving, but DOE gave the company high marks for blazing a commercial-scale trail for future floating offshore wind farms.

“Tremendous progress was made for the US offshore wind industry, through technical validation, the exercising of the permitting/leasing process and subsequent lessons learned and through early engagement with stakeholders, policy-makers, utilities and the supply chain,” DOE wrote in a 2017 final report on the project.

The report also gave Principle Power credit for stimulating the offshore wind activity now taking shape in California and Hawaii.

The Secret Floating Offshore Wind Farm Tour

With all this in mind, our friends over at Energy Voice just caught wind of a “secret fact-finding mission” to the Kincardine project in Scotland.

The contingent reportedly includes representatives from California, New York, Maine, Virginia, and North Carolina in addition to “policy, innovation and research chiefs from across the US energy sector.”

That’s quite an elaborate get-together. We’re guessing that the second group includes Energy Department representatives, but that’s just a guess.

Actually, the trip might not be so secret after all. Last week, Maine’s Press-Herald took a deep dive into the topic and reported that Maine Governor Janet Mills — a big fan of offshore wind — is on the trip along with two of her top energy and innovation advisors.

“The trip is aimed at sharing knowledge and contacts in a region that boasts the greatest amount of installed offshore wind capacity in the world, the first commercial-scale floating wind turbines and an even larger floating wind project under construction,” wrote Press-Herald reporter Tux Turkel.

Maine actually could have beat Scotland to the punch. As Turkel reported, in 2013, former Governor Paul LePage monkey-wrenched a proposed 30-megawatt floating offshore wind farm for Maine, which instead became Statoil’s Hywind project in Scotland.

LePage did greenlight a smaller offshore demonstration project that still has legs — thanks partly to an assist from the Energy Department, of course. Though only weighing in at 9.5 megawatts, the project has gotten further than the Oregon venture, having secured a power purchase agreement last December.

What About Hydrogen?

Yes, what about it? Mention offshore wind these days and there’s bound to be a renewable hydrogen angle. As a long duration energy storage medium, renewable hydrogen can pair with offshore wind to work around electricity transmission bottlenecks and transform a curtailment scenario into a feature, not a bug.

So it is with the mystery tour. According to Energy Voice, the group will be chatting with Kincardine’s developer, Equinor, and other wind stakeholders about hydrogen as well as floating turbines and and regular ones, too.

Maine is already considering a renewable hydrogen project, putting it in company with Vermont and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, perhaps Brouillette spoke too soon. Renewable hydrogen technology — aka power to gas — is still not quite market-ready, and the nation’s roster of long duration energy storage platforms still mainly consists of hydropower dams.

Then there’s the perovskite solar cell area, among many others. But who are we? If you would like the dollars to keep flowing into renewable energy projects, go ahead and give your local US Representative a call. They’re the ones doing the budget, after all.

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Photo (cropped): Courtesy of Principle Power via US Department of Energy. 

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About the Author

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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