Buoyant future for floating offshore wind – and Scotland can be at forefront
By Claire Mack, chief executive of Scottish Renewables
It would be difficult to observe the energy industry today and conclude anything other than that the continued development of floating offshore wind technology is inevitable.
Cutting carbon from our energy system is hard. We’ll need to use every tool at our disposal, and deploy many of them way beyond what we currently consider to be the limits of feasibility.
Those tools, we already have: mature renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and hydropower, alongside newer entrants like tidal and wave power, anaerobic digestion and heat pumps.
But the resource may well prove to be a trickier challenge.
Offshore, the UK is blessed with relatively shallow seas, and some of the strongest winds in Europe. We’ve used that, to date, to install more wind power offshore than any other country in the world.
But two factors now collide.
One is the limitation of that shallow water resource if we really want to get the most out of offshore wind – particularly in Scotland.
The other is the challenge faced in the rest of the world: in Europe, 80 per cent of the offshore wind resource is in waters more than 60 metres deep. Japan has the same challenge. In the US, the figure is 60 per cent.
Floating wind turbines – tethered to the seabed with chains and cables, rather than fixed to it with solid steel – are the best way to tap that tremendous, global offshore wind resource.
They can be anchored in water up to half a kilometre deep and use mature, trusted electricity generation machinery which is already proving its worth atop fixed towers across the world.
Scotland currently has the world’s largest floating offshore wind farm – Hywind Scotland – deployed in 100 metres of water off Peterhead.
We’ve plans for more, but so have other countries, notably in the Far East and southern Europe.
A race for floating wind is under way, and it’s that race – and the economic opportunity it presents – which means the continued development of floating offshore wind technology is inevitable.
Scotland is well-placed to grasp that opportunity.
Our deeper waters mean the chance to use fixed-bottom offshore wind is more limited – hence our early lead in building floating wind farms, and plans in the pipeline for more to come.
Projects like the European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen Bay and the Beatrice project, eight miles off Wick in Caithness, are starting to tap our offshore wind resource – and many Scottish companies are successfully working in other parts of the North Sea (the world’s largest fixed-bottom offshore wind market).
Our oil and gas heritage, too, can play its part. A report prepared for the Scottish Government by the Carbon Trust in 2015 noted “several technology synergies with the oil and gas industry, which successfully introduced floating platforms to access oil and gas reserves in deep water locations at a lower cost than fixed bottom alternatives. As such, there is a great deal of overlap regarding the design, fabrication and installation of the platform, moorings and anchors used in floating wind systems”.
It’s easy to see why Scotland has, at present, a world lead in floating offshore wind.
While countries such as Japan, the United States and France are all keen to press ahead with development, they lack access to the type of offshore engineering expertise with which we’ve been provided by oil and gas, or existing offshore wind projects on which to hone that expertise.
To end where we began: the continued development of floating offshore wind technology is inevitable – but Scotland’s role in that development is not.
While the opportunity for floating wind in Scotland and globally is huge, our success here will be enabled by honing cost reduction, building supply chain and pushing innovation in the nearer term through our fixed bottom sites.
It’s imperative that governments in London and Edinburgh continue to work with industry to develop this nascent sector – recognising the higher costs imposed by its relatively early stage of development, but also the vast opportunity for the UK if we can provide the skills needed for global deployment at scale.
- Floating Offshore Wind UK 2019 is being held in Aberdeen on October 31, featuring speakers from Equinor, Shell, the Oil and Gas Authority, Global Energy Group and Principle Power. The event will also hear a ministerial address by Scottish Government Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse and a keynote address by Sir Ian Wood KT GBE, chairman of Opportunity North East.