The leading global energy producer Equinor is moving forward with plans for launching a whole fleet of gigantic floating wind turbines into the sea, about 140 kilometers off the coast of Norway. The venture opens the door for a new wave of offshore wind development in deep water, where conventional fixed-platform turbines dare not venture.
The Floating Wind Turbine Difference
When wind turbines float, they can unlock new reserves of offshore wind energy that have barely been tapped. Consider the US, for example. States along much of the Atlantic coast are busily developing fixed-platform offshore wind farms, taking advantage of the relatively shallow waters of the Continental Shelf. In contrast, wind energy fans along the Pacific Coast are still gazing longingly at the sea, where the water is too deep for today’s fixed-platform engineering.
In 2010, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory analyzed the West Coast for untapped wind energy potential. It arrived at slightly more than 70 gigawatts of offshore wind for the three West Coast states, up to the fixed-platform limit of 60 meters deep. At a depth of more than 60 meters, the potential shoots up to 873 gigawatts. So far, all of it is just sitting there.
Where Are All The Floating Wind Turbines?
Good question. The US began pouring serious money into floating wind technology during the Obama administration. So far there has been little actual movement in terms of actually building an offshore floating wind farm, but an energy consortium in California is taking a serious look at the idea and the US Department of Energy is still pumping dollars into R&D.
Somewhat ironically, technology developed with US Energy Department support is being applied in Portugal, where the experimental WindFloat project has been under way since 2011.
France has also been working diligently in the floating wind field, and now has a two-megawatt floating wind turbine in operation off its coast with EU support, and the Spanish company Ibderola is launching a floating offshore wind effort in the North Sea.
Here Comes All The Floating Offshore Wind Turbines
Before the floating offshore wind industry can really take off, it needs to build supply chain efficiencies and economies of scale.
That brings us to Equinor’s latest project. The new Hywind Tampen floating wind farm was proposed last year and just got the green light from Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum. It is a step above anything else currently in the water, sporting a total of 11 turbines with a capacity of 8 megawatts each.
Electricity from this particular wind farm is going to support Equinor’s offshore oil and gas operations, which may disappoint some clean power fans. However, the project could help accelerate the adoption of floating wind technology for other uses.
Sustaining oil and gas operations with renewable energy is relatively commonplace, though it’s less than ideal from an energy transition perspective. However, it’s not a total wash. According to Equinor, electricity from the wind farm will provide about 35% of the average annual electricity consumption among five platforms. It will partly replace the use of natural gas, offsetting CO2 emissions from those operations by a total of 200,000 tonnes per year.
Equinor also anticipates that it can deploy the Tampen project as a testing ground that helps accelerate the development of larger floating turbines, more efficient installation methods, and new improvements in moorings, substructures and other hardware.
There may also be substantial implications for offshore wind development in the US. Equinor has already established a strong foothold in the fixed-platform offshore wind industry along the Atlantic coast, and lessons learned at the Tampen project could be applied to the Pacific coast.
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Photo: Downloadable press photo/illustration courtesy of Equinor, “Hywind Tampen floating wind farm – illustration #1869955,” copyright Equinor.
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