Beatrice Offshore Windfarm, image courtesy of SSE

Scotland Beats US To Offshore Floating Wind Turbine Punch, Again

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The gigantic Ossian offshore floating wind turbine array will weigh in at an impressive 3.6 gigawatts when fully built out. It sounds like something that could easily fit anywhere inside the long, long coastlines of the US. However, it will not. Ossian is yet another offshore wind project that will come under the flag of Scotland, which is eyeing an industry-leading total of 15 gigawatts in floating wind in just seven years. Meanwhile, the US has exactly seven wind turbines up and running offshore, and they don’t even float. What’s up with that?

US Energy Department Hearts Floating Wind Turbines…

For those of you new to the topic, floating wind turbines do just what they say: they sit on platforms that float on the surface of the ocean, anchored to the seabed with cables.

That’s not nearly as simple as it sounds. A considerable engineering and design feat is involved, but to wind industry stakeholders it’s well worth the investment in time and money. Floating systems can be anchored in deeper waters, so they open up far more areas for wind development than possible with conventional fixed-platform construction.

Floating wind technology was just a glimmer in eye of the US wind industry eye back in 2009, when former President Obama took office with an “all-of-the-above” carbon reducing agenda. That same year, CleanTechnica took note of the new WindFloat tricorner turbine platform under development by the US firm Principle Power. So did the US Department of Energy, which chipped in $750,000 to help Principle Power bring its project to market.

Apparently they liked what they saw. In 2014, the Energy Department also included Principle in a three-way split of a $141 million funding pot for new offshore wind technology. “Principle’s share was in support of five 6-megawatt floating turbines for an offshore project called WindFloat Pacific, off Coos Bay in Oregon,” CleanTechnica reported enthusiastically.

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…But Trump Administration Drops The Ball

So, where is Principle Power now? US policy makers whiffed on offshore wind after former President Obama left office in 2017, to be replaced by former President Trump, who appears to be on track to become the first-ever former US President facing criminal indictment. Trump has also achieved a degree of notoriety for regularly disparaging wind power in general and offshore wind farms in particular, possibly on account of a dispute involving an offshore wind farm in Scotland and ethe view from a Trump-branded golf complex near the village of Balmedie in Aberdeen.

Midway through Trump’s term in office the Coos Bay project was determined to be a lost cause by the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and Principle Power took its business elsewhere.

The company has been rather busy since then. In 2021, Principle was tapped to provide its floating platforms for the 30-megawatt Éoliennes Flottantes du Golfe de Lion (EFGL) floating offshore wind farm hosted by France, off the coast of Leucate and Le Barcares in the French Mediterranean.

CleanTechnica is also wondering if Principle Power has the inside track on the massive 999-megawatt Nao Victoria project proposed for Spain. That remains to be seen, though.

Scotland Nails Floating Wind Pole Position

Nao Victoria is peanuts compared to the 3.6 gigawatt Ossian project in the works for Scotland, to be located  80 kilometers southeast of Aberdeenshire. If all goes according to plan, it will be the largest offshore floating wind array in the world. Plans were initially laid for a 2.6 gigawatt array, but survey results last year bumped the capacity up by another gigawatt.

Ossian is under the wing of a three-firm partnership that includes the Scottish firm SSE Renewables, which already has a solid offshore wind track record in its home country and elsewhere.

The other two partners are the Japanese floating wind developer Marubeni and the fund management firm CIP (Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners) of Denmark, which is described as “the world’s largest dedicated fund manager within greenfield renewable energy investments and a global leader in offshore wind.”

As of this writing, Ossian is still in the initial planning phase. On March 17 the partners submitted a formal Scoping Report to the government of Scotland, and they have engaged the firms Ocean Infinity and Fugro to conduct surveys of the offshore site. The findings are expected to be wrapped up by July, so stay tuned for more on that.

US To Global Floating Wind Industry: We’re Not Dead Yet

No word yet on whether or not Principle Power will play a role in the Ossian project, but Principle is a member of the DeepWind Cluster along with SSE Renewables and 800 or so other wind industry stakeholders that aim to accelerate wind development throughout the UK.

As for the US, it has a lot of catching up to do. As of now, the only US offshore wind projects in commercial operation are Rhode Island’s five-turbine, fixed-platform Block Island wind farm and two fixed-platform turbines off the coast of Virginia, for a grand total of 42 megawatts between the two of them.

On the bright side, the US Department of Energy registers an impressive 40 gigawatts in the offshore pipeline, primarily located along the Atlantic coast and other areas where fixed-platform sites are at hand. The Pacific coast and several other parts of the US will need floating wind turbines to access their wind resources.

To help move things along, earlier this year the Energy Department launched the new “Floating Offshore Wind Energy Shot” as part of its ongoing Energy Earthshots technology acceleration program. The goal is to cut the cost of floating wind by more than 70% by 2035, down to $45.00 per megawatt-hour.

The Floating Energy Shot also calls for 15 gigawatts of floating wind by 2035, and Scotland’s plan calls for a shorter timeline of 15 gigawatts by 2030. Which country will get to the 15-gigawatt mark first is an open question. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

What About The Whales?

Yes, what about them. Anti-offshore wind opponents received a shot of adrenaline earlier this year, when more than a dozen dead whales began washing up on the shores of New Jersey, with more spotted elsewhere along the Atlantic Coast. Having no offshore turbines anywhere near New Jersey to blame, the wind opponents have reportedly pinned the blame on the acoustic systems used to survey New Jersey offshore wind sites, even though no evidence supports that claim. To the surprise of no-one, the alleged linkage to offshore wind has been picked up and amplified by conservative media.

In a report last February, public radio station WHYY in Philadelphia cited an expert from NOAA, who pointed out that the acoustic systems used by the wind industry have never been linked to any spate of whale deaths anywhere in the world. In a separate report, NPR also indicated that anti-wind activists should not confuse the equipment used in wind surveys with the powerful seismic guns used for oil and gas exploration.

WHYY also reported that the anti-wind activists in New Jersey do not seem particularly concerned about taking action to reduce vessel strikes and derelict fishing nets, both of which are tracked by NOAA and have actually been implicated in whale deaths. Perhaps a love of whales is not the driving force behind the opposition to offshore wind farms in New Jersey. If you have any thoughts about that, drop us a note in the comment thread.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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