Floating Offshore Wind - A Cause for Concern?

The buzz around the floating offshore wind sector at the moment is electric and there is a really positive vibe about where this sector is heading. However, beneath all that we have a couple of key concerns to ensure the industry realises its full potential.

Suffocating innovation

Floating offshore wind is a new area and a new sector. Sure, there is some carry-across from fixed offshore wind, oil and gas installations, floating body mooring, marine renewables but fundamentally it must be regarded as NEW. A similar thing happened in the early days of offshore wind turbines, when people considered it as “just” taking a wind turbine and putting it offshore. It wasn’t until the challenges were understood after some expensive lessons learnt that the knowledge was developed through the design process, that the LCOE came tumbling down.

With the hype around floating wind and the obvious connotations with fixed bottom wind there is a feeling of pressure to make floating bankable within the next decade. This mentality has the potential to stifle innovation, as each individual investor (and insurer) in each demonstration project will want to minimise their risk and thus want things to be done “the way it was done last time”. This approach has the potential to prevent development of foundation concepts and inclusion of local content, both of which will be crucial to the long-term success of the industry.

To support the industry at this stage there needs to be a focus on allowing and supporting innovation particularly in the areas of foundation design, mooring & anchoring solutions, installation operations and ongoing O&M strategies – demonstration projects need to provide scope for this development.

Windfloat-Atlantic

WindFloat Atlantic

Source: Windplus

Hywind Scotland Model

Another area for concern is the local content aspect. For floating wind to flourish in any nation the level of local content needs to be significant. In the UK there is a drive for significant offshore wind installation (50GW by 2050) and inclusion of local content in the development of this industry, the upcoming CfD rounds will feature the review of a supply chain plan (still to be fully defined) to try to put some focus on UK supply chains. Floating wind is featured in the Offshore Wind Sector Deal and the UK waters do feature some very suitable areas, particularly in the South West. However, if the risk averse approach wins out much of the foundation manufacture, turbine manufacture and other aspects of the supply chain will be done overseas.

Take Erebus as an example of a demonstration site. If the turbines were procured from Siemens and manufactured in Denmark (this is purely hypothetical) and the Principle Power foundations were made “as they were before” they would be made in Spain and towed across to site, limiting UK content and development of the UK supply chain in the South West. Moreover, for the ability to meet targets like 30GW by 2030 and 50GW by 2050 more capacity in the supply chain is going to be required than the single Spanish port that was suitable for producing 3 platforms for WindFloat Atlantic.

In a more positive example, we see Equinor still exploring different foundation formats (spar and semi-submersible) as well as trialling anchor sharing systems for the forthcoming Hywind Tampen demonstration project; this is the sort of scope for development we need to see in these projects.

Another example of a positive drive for local content, is Simply Blue Energy’s Salamander project, where an RFI has been sent out to only Scottish fabricators, and a foundation type has been identified to be both manufacturable and more suited to Scottish ports than the Principal platform. This is definitely forward thinking from Simply Blue, but it will be interesting to see the development as it moves into pre-FEED next year.

This blog is a subtle reminder to the industry that in order to mitigate the biggest risk – that the industry may not become cost competitive – we need to facilitate the de-risking of technology and the development of technology in these early phases by introducing local content early on in the project, rather than trying to rush to commercial maturity.

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