Published On: February 15, 2022|880 words|4.5 min read|
Floating Wind Farm
Floating Wind Farm

Floating Wind Farms in the UK

With the emergence of floating wind farm technology, the UK is a step closer to its target of net zero emissions by 2030. In the UK’s North Sea, there currently resides a 30 megawatt wind farm called Dogger Bank Wind Farm which is run by Norwegian company, Equinor. This facility is one of the biggest of its kind and has already broken UK energy output records since opening in 2017 – it will eventually power over 6 million British homes. Subsequently, Equinor also opened Hywind Scotland, the world’s first commercial wind farm using floating turbines, situated 29 kilometres (18 mi) off Peterhead, Scotland. The floating win farm has five 6 MW Hywind floating turbines with a total capacity of 30 MW.

As the UK trials this new form of technology and we see more plans to build floating wind farms across the UK and rest of the world, we wonder; are they the answer to the energy crisis?

What is a Floating Wind Farm?

Floating wind farms offer a solution to many of the problems that onshore wind turbines pose. Floating wind farms are large collections of wind turbines that are assembled onshore and put onto buoyant barges. They are then towed out to deep waters, up to 165ft deep, where they float on a large foundation, anchored to the sea bed to prevent movement using moorings.

Why Do We Need Floating Wind Farms?

Floating wind farms have many positive benefits. For example, they prevent less ecological harm to shallow water wildlife which is often destroyed when turbines are installed closer to the shore. Floating wind farms are installed in deep water, far from land which means they are less visible to us and therefore less likely to become an eye sore and impose on beautiful surroundings. In addition, the winds in deep waters are far stronger so more power is produced. Up to 80% of potential offshore wind power is found in deep waters, drastically providing more energy than onshore or coastal wind farms. The maximum depth they can be anchored to is currently 165ft, however as technology progresses they could potentially be installed further out and produce more power.

Issues with floatable turbines

There are still several issues that need to be tackled in relation to floating wind farms, with offshore turbines costing double that of onshore farms. However, the costs are predicted to be reduced in the coming years as the technology and supply lines inevitably progress. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have predicted that by 2030 floating wind farms will have achieved cost parity with low end onshore counterparts.

Another issue is the wide variety of concepts for the construction of the turbines. There are three main design concepts for the sea anchoring mechanism. This means, due to a lack of standardisation, production costs remain high. Therefore the ability to drive costs down, by refining the process, is stifled. The fishing industry also has reservations regarding the use of floating wind farms. Representatives from various fishing organisations have stated that the anchoring systems and scale of the farms may disrupt fishing equipment and obstruct fishing areas, causing issues for the fishing industry.

Floating Wind Farms Across the Globe

The UK is not the only country investing and exploring the benefits of floating wind farms. America has also pledged to do more, as President Biden recently promised to build more 30GW offshore farms by 2030. In addition, the American Department of Energy has announced a 100 million dollar investment in floatable turbine research and development.

The USA seems keen to establish themselves as leaders in this ever-growing industry. Other countries such as Norway, South Korea, Japan and Portugal have also invested large amounts in floating wind farms with 26GW production estimates placing them at the forefront of the offshore market. Scotland has also been heralded as a world leader after its investment in the Aberdeenshire Equinor Farm was a success. It has been stated that the success of their large offshore farm will be a major factor in achieving net zero emissions in the future, as they have proven it is a viable possibility.

Floating Turbine Power Output

Currently only 0.25% of all wind power is produced through floating wind farms (32 megawatts). In addition, the International Energy Agency estimates that 390GW of power must be created between 2030 and 2050 to ensure carbon neutrality. Therefore, the offshore wind power industry will need to make large leaps in production and scale to achieve its goals. In January of 2021, it was announced that renewables overtook fossil fuels as the primary energy source in the EU so as more countries look towards this as a sustainable energy source, the pricing should fall and scale should increase.

The Future of Floating Wind Farms

The offshore power industry is currently vastly smaller than any other form of energy production. However, recent and fast technological improvements coupled with large investment interest has accelerated progress. The positive environmental impacts of floating wind farms position them as a key tool in the fight against climate change. Overall, in the future it is predicted we will see more production plans for offshore wind farms and a greater energy output from them.

With the rapid expansion of the renewables industry, why not consider GWO Training Courses to prepare you for a career in the sector?

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