The building of the world’s largest floating wind farm is set to begin this year off the west coast of Scotland, after the green light was given by the Crown Estate that manages the leasing of the seabed in the region. The site, located around 25 kilometers (15 miles) east of Peterhead, will be operated by the Norwegian energy company Statoil, and is expected to have a capacity of 30 megawatts (MW).
Statoil, who is to build the Hywind Scotland Pilot Park wind farm, already runs a floating turbine, which has been operational off the coast of Norway since about 2009. However, this is the first time that so many are to be built in one place. Each of the five floating turbines are expected to have an output of 6MW, which together will be enough to power an estimated 20,000 homes by the end of 2017.
The advantage of having the turbines bobbing in the sea is that they can be placed in much deeper water than those that are stuck in the ground. Traditional offshore wind farms are limited to being in less than 40 meters (130 feet) of water; anything greater and the costs associated with the projects are simply too high. Instead, by mooring the turbines, which are on steel tubes loaded with ballast to the sea floor, they can deploy them at depths of up to 100 meters (330 feet), opening up a much greater area for potential turbines to be placed.
Image in text: A size representation of one of the turbines compared to Big Ben. Statoil ASA
The potential returns from having a wind farm further out to sea is much greater due to stronger winds. Statoil ASA.
There is great interest in moving wind farms further offshore, where increased wind speeds means that the energy reaped is much greater than closer to shore. There are more than 40 projects currently in development to create floating farms, driven in part by the crashing prices of oil and gas, coupled with the fact that permission is often more easily granted due to their reduced visual impact on the landscape. The world’s largest individual wind turbine was unveiled near Fukushima, Japan, just last year, while another is set to go operational off the coast of Portugal in 2018.
While currently it is estimated that over 90 percent of all offshore wind is installed in northern Europe, and with a European Union target of getting 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, the potential of floating wind farms is quite large. The main issue regarding offshore wind has been the massive costs involved, but if the returns in terms of energy generated is greater, then the costs will drop. But it is not only Europe who is looking to the oceans, as offshore wind has also been growing significantly in other parts of the world too, namely Japan, China, and the U.S.