Whelp, that was fast. The world’s largest floating offshore wind array clocked in at 88 megawatts just last week, and now here comes another one more than 10 times its size. If all goes according to plan, the proposed Nao Victoria offshore wind farm will bring 999 megawatts’ worth of floating wind turbines to Spain, off the coast of Málaga and Cádiz. Natural gas stakeholders better act fast if they want to fend off the competition from offshore wind.
The Floating Offshore Wind Advantage
The floating angle is important because it allows for wind turbines to be located in deeper water, where conventional fixed-platform construction is impractical. Floating a wind turbine platform farther out to sea also enables developers to avoid conflicts with other shoreline industries and protests from coastal communities that don’t want their view spoiled.
The US Department of Energy ran the numbers earlier this year and toted up 60,746 megawatts of floating turbines around the world, though so far almost all of them are still in the pipeline awaiting construction.
Floating turbines are a relatively new development, which explains why the pipeline is so bloated compared to those in operation (less than 200 megawatts, as of this writing). However, costs are already sinking rapidly. The US Energy Department is determined to push them down even faster. Earlier this year the agency launched a new Floating Offshore Wind initiative under its Energy Earthshots program, aimed at slashing costs to $45 per megawatt-hour by 2035. That represents a 70% drop in costs from current levels.
“About two-thirds of U.S. offshore wind energy potential exists over waters too deep for today’s fixed-bottom wind turbine foundations secured directly to the sea floor, and instead require floating platforms. These structures will be among the largest humankind has ever constructed,” the Energy Department observes.
Spain Scrambles For More Floating Wind Turbines
Other nations are also eager to exploit the fullest extent of their offshore wind resources with floating turbines, and Spain is among them. Last summer, Reuters reported that the country is eyeballing 1-3 gigawatts’ worth of floating turbines by 2030.
“Spain has one of the world’s largest onshore wind fleets, but its coastal waters are too deep to allow the installation of turbines that have allowed greater wind speeds and extra space to be exploited offshore in Britain and some other countries,” noted Reuters reporter Isla Binnie.
The newly formed IberBlue Wind floating turbine joint venture aims to account for a big slice of that goal with its 999-megawatt Nao Victoria project.
Everything about this project is big. The plan is to install 55 wind turbines clocking in at an average capacity of just a hair over 18 megawatts each. By comparison, the biggest floating offshore wind farm as of last month was the Kincardine array in Ireland, which sports five 9.5-megawatt turbines. Norway’s new Hywind Tampen project in the North Sea recently topped that with seven turbines for a total capacity of 60 megawatts. When fully built out, the array will consist of 11 turbines for a total of 88 megawatts, still far short of the vision for Nao Victoria.
According to IberBlue, the array will cover about 307 square kilometers. The distance from shore will vary from 25 to 40 kilometers out, in order to minimize impacts on the seascape from shore.
Which Floating Offshore Wind Turbines?
The IberBlue joint venture consists of Ireland’s Simply Blue Group along Spain’s Proes Consultores, (the engineering division of the Grupo Amper), and the renewable energy developer FF New Energy Ventures.
They haven’t settled on a turbine manufacturer as of this writing. For the floating platforms, our money is on the US company Principle Power, which has received considerable support from the US Energy Department on its way to becoming a leading player in the global floating turbine market.
Principle Power’s floating offshore wind turbines are already featured on the IberBlue website. The company’s signature technology is WindFloat®, a semi-submersible, three-legged designed for waters more than 40 meters deep, with an eye on 1,000 meters or more.
“The WindFloat® is a wind turbine agnostic floating platform that can be deployed independently of water depth or seabed conditions, allowing access to the best wind resources available,” Principle explains.
As for the turbines, if you have any thoughts about that drop us a note in the comment thread. The familiar three-bladed horizontal axis configuration is commonplace now, but new vertical axis turbine technology is also carving out a niche in the offshore wind area.
And Of Course, Green Hydrogen
IberBlue Wind is aiming for a total of 2 gigawatts in offshore wind capacity for Spain and Portugal combined. They are competing with other developers for a share of the market, but if they do come out ahead of the pack with Principle Power on board, a green hydrogen angle could be in the works.
Last week Principle Power announced another stage in its work with the consultancy firm ERM to design a 10-megawatt green hydrogen demonstration project off the coast of Aberdeen in Scotland. The two partners have been collaborating since 2019 on an all-in-one system designed to desalinate seawater for electrolysis, in which an electrical current pushes hydrogen gas from water.
Called ERM Dolphyn, for “Deepwater Offshore Local Production of HYdrogeN,” the project deploys Principle Power’s WindFloat platform outfitted with a modular electrolysis and desalination system powered by a wind turbine.
“The ERM Dolphyn project, a first-of-a-kind, is an innovative integrated system combining all the technologies required to bring the latest floating wind and hydrogen production technologies together to enable offshore wind resources to contribute toward hydrogen production at scale,” Principle explains.
If all goes according to plan, the 10-megawatt demonstrator will go online in 2025. Commercial scale projects of 300 megawatts or more are already in the planning stages with an eye on operation before the end of the decade.
“When fully deployed, at an expected 4 GW total capacity, ERM Dolphyn has the potential to supply energy to heat more than 1.5 million homes with no carbon emissions, thus avoiding the release of millions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year,” Principle adds, which is why we say natural gas stakeholders better act fast if they want to stay afloat in a low carbon economy.
The window of opportunity for gas producers is closing fast, now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has demonstrated the vulnerability of both Ukraine and Europe under a fossil energy scenario. If the threat of catastrophic global warming is not incentive enough, Russia’s murderous invasion of Ukraine provides an ample demonstration of the need to shake off the yoke of a centralized fossil energy economy as quickly as possible.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey (for now).
Photo: Floating platform for offshore wind turbines courtesy of Principle Power.
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