An enormous new wind farm planned for the Icelandic coast would mark an astonishing step forward for offshore wind if it gets built. We're likely to find out its prospects fairly soon, because as well as the astonishing scale and challenging location, the company behind it is also working to an unusually short timeline.
Offshore wind has exploded in recent years, expanding 12-fold since 2010. In the process, the cost of the energy produced this way has fallen at phenomenal rates. Offshore wind is still usually more expensive per unit of energy produced than wind farms on land, but is catching up fast. Moreover, electricity companies will often pay a premium for the greater reliability, and the fact that offshore and onshore wind are sometimes complimentary, producing the most power at different times.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of offshore wind turbines currently installed are in just two places; the North Sea and off the Chinese coast. Operations are just beginning off the American east coast which, like existing sites, offers shallow waters close to the places the electricity will be consumed.
The proposal by Hecate Independent Power (HIP) is quite different. They want to build a 10-gigawatt wind farm as a set of semi-independent “pods” off Iceland, but send the power produced to Britain. The largest operating offshore windfarm in the world is 1.2 GW, and the previous largest proposal 8.2 GW.
Iceland, richly supplied with geothermal and hydroelectric power (and tiny amounts of the world's most improbably sited solar) has no need to draw energy from the wind, although they may appreciate the jobs HIP is promising.
The UK, and the European grid it is connected to, is a different matter. Building and maintaining wind farms in such inhospitable conditions will add to the cost, as will the High Voltage Direct Current undersea cables needed to bring the electricity produced south. However, HIP is counting on the fact Iceland and the North Sea are in different wind regimes, so they will have power to offer at the times when it's needed most.
HIP Chair and former UK energy minister Sir Tony Baldry said in a statement; “We will stretch the zone of British-operated wind generation outside of our traditional territorial waters, pushing the boundaries of existing cable technology to generate over 1,000 kms from our grid landfall points throughout England."
HIP predicts a capacity factor of 65 percent, reflecting the strength and consistency of winds over the open ocean, and advances in turbine size.
Unsurprisingly, such an immense project will not be built all at once, but HIP claims they will deliver the first 2 GW of capacity by early 2025. That would be an easy goal for solar, which can be built exceptionally quickly, or even onshore wind. However, offshore wind projects have been slower to come to fruition so far. HIP has applied for permission for 4 GW of grid connections, but these have yet to be granted. No information has been released as to how much of the estimated £21 billion (US $30 billion) cost has been raised so far.
The project is to be a mix of fixed and floating wind turbines, with the initial phase fixed. Floating turbine technology can theoretically allow turbines to be placed in deeper water with cables attaching turbines to the seafloor, but is still very much in its infancy.