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A half-century of countries with floating offshore wind by mid-century?

23 June 2022 Keiron Greenhalgh

As many as 54 countries may have installed floating offshore wind capacity by 2050, according to a study released 20 June by the UK-based research center ORE Catapult. At the moment, only the UK, Portugal, Norway, and China have any operational capacity at all.

Analysis for the study carried out by consultancy OWC identified 22 markets in which there were floating offshore wind installation opportunities in the near term, which it defined as 2022 through 2035, while a further 32 are longer-term options through 2050.

OWC's analysis found the top five global markets (in descending order) in terms of readiness were the UK, Japan, France, South Korea, and Taiwan. Norway and the US are ranked just outside the top five, followed closely by the world's largest offshore wind market by capacity currently—China.

RenewableUK data released 21 July, meanwhile, indicates the UK has the biggest pipeline of floating wind projects in the world at 32 GW. Sweden is second at 25 GW, Taiwan third with 21 GW, Ireland and South Korea are tied for fourth at 16 GW, it said.

Such pipelines of floating wind, bolstered by increasing policy support, suggest at least 10 GW of capacity is on track to be commissioned by the end of 2030, according to the ORE Catapult study.

That's not a moment too soon, according to Ingrid Lomelde, vice president sustainability, Aker Offshore Wind, as floating wind is the sector that most urgently needs to be commercialized for countries and companies to reach their climate targets.

While far behind its bottom-fixed counterpart at the moment, floating wind has greater potential and capacity, according to S&P Global Commodity Insights analysts. Europe alone has approximately 4,000 GW of untapped potential, which is about 80% of potential regional offshore wind resources, all in water depths in excess of 60 meters, the analysts said in a May report.

Such extraordinary potential and the offshore wind targets being set by countries around the globe are "a positive challenge" for developers, Stephan Buller, head of offshore portfolio management and floating offshore wind at Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, told a 21 June roundtable.

The ramp up is already under way. While the onshore wind market saw a dip in installations in 2021, its offshore counterpart had its best ever year, according to the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). But installation levels across the board must hasten yet further, the trade body said.

A four-fold increase in the pace of the global wind fleet buildout is now necessary to avoid a global average temperature increase of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, as the Paris Agreement seeks, GWEC said.

Floating wind's compound annual growth rate will lag the overall figure for the offshore wind sector through 2026, but will jump at the end of the current decade and into the 2030s, with figures for individual nations and regions underpinned in many cases by some of the multi-gigawatt projects announced in recent weeks.

Gigawatt-scale projects

Irish developer Simply Blue on 18 May unveiled plans for two multi-gigawatt floating wind projects in Sweden. The 2-GW Skidbladner project is set to be located 100 kilometers (km) southeast of Sweden's capital city Stockholm and the 2.75-GW Herkules project would be about 60 km southeast of the island of Gotland, it said.

A little over a month later, the developer on 21 June announced plans for its second offshore wind project in Northern Irish waters. The 1.3-GW Olympic floating wind facility is more than twice the size of Nomadic Offshore Wind, which was unveiled in March.

Simply Blue is also behind one of the next Scottish floating wind projects expected to leave the drawing board—Scotland is home to the first two operational floating wind facilities. The 100-MW Salamander joint venture with fixed-bottom pioneer Ørsted and engineering company Subsea 7 is expected to lay some of the commercial floating offshore groundwork before the larger projects planned as part of the UK's ScotWind tender come online. Of the 25 GW of potential ScotWind capacity awarded, an estimated 15-17 GW is likely to be floating wind.

Across the North Sea, after being shut out of the ScotWind lease sale, Norway's Equinor—which operates one of the two Scottish floating wind facilities where turbines are currently turning—has domestic gigawatt-scale ambitions.

On 17 June, Equinor said it was teaming up with Petoro, TotalEnergies, Shell, and ConocoPhillips to study the options for a 1-GW floating wind farm near the Troll and Oseberg oil and natural gas fields. The partners are eyeing a 2027 startup and the Trollvind facility would provide much of the electricity needed to run the fields. An investment decision is set to be made in 2023, Equinor said.

Floating wind is a "Swiss Army Knife" for decarbonization, Lomelde told the roundtable. At the same event, Hanne Wigum, Equinor wind concepts leader, said Trollvind would serve multiple purposes:

  • Decarbonization of the oil and gas industry;
  • Delivery of power to a high demand area; and,
  • Industrialization of floating wind.

Estimates indicate Trollvind can deliver power for less than NOK 1/kWh (10 cents/kWh), Equinor said. When solar power was scaling up, its 2020 US utility-scale target was 6 cents/kWh. Such a price for Trollvind's power would ensure greater long-term access to power at a stable price in the Bergen area, where Equinor said the power situation is strained.

A day before the Trollvind announcement, Equinor said 16 June it was teaming up with Technip Energies to develop floating wind steel semi substructures it hopes will enable cost reductions. Equinor said that "even though costs have come down substantially, there is still a way to go for the floating technology to reach commerciality."

Between Equinor's first floating turbine, Hywind Demo, and world's first floating wind farm, Hywind Scotland, the cost per megawatt fell 70% and it believes the 88-MW Hywind Tampen, located in its home waters, will see costs decline a further 40%.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre visited the NOK 5-billion Hywind Tampen's construction site on 7 June. Four of the 11 turbines have now been installed, Equinor said. Norway's government wants offshore wind to produce as much electricity as Norway currently produces and is planning to build 30 GW of offshore wind by 2040.

Coming Spanish armada?

While Equinor was shut out in the pricey ScotWind auction, Scotland's biggest utility, ScottishPower, was not. ScottishPower is a subsidiary of Iberdrola, which plans to build up to 2 GW of floating wind capacity in the waters of its native land. Spain ranked 12th in the ORE Catapult readiness table.

Iberdrola isn't the only developer with floating wind goals in Spain, the majority of whose coastal waters are too deep for bottom-fixed turbines. On 17 June, Capital Energy and BlueFloat Energy announced plans for the 50-MW, €120-million ($126-million) Granadilla facility.

In addition, Simply Blue on 4 May signed a floating wind memorandum of understanding with Proes Consultores and FF New Energy Venture that could see more than 2 GW of capacity built in Spanish and Portuguese waters.

Spain is an "attractive market for the development of floating offshore wind due to the outstanding wind resource, the longstanding coastal engineering and civil works heritage, as well as superb supply chain capabilities," the three partners said.

Just over a month later on 6 June, Saitec Offshore Technologies said it planned to develop a 50-MW floating wind facility off the coast of Catalonia by 2025. The offshore turbines will use the company's SATH technology, which is about to be tested in the Bay of Biscay.

Saitec's SATH demonstration work over the next two years in the Bay of Biscay ahead of Mediterranean Sea deployment is part of the ongoing development of designs for the nascent floating wind sector. There has been no standardization of turbine or mooring design yet, with some developers departing from the three-blade option that dominates the onshore and bottom-fixed offshore wind arenas.

Siemens Gamesa's Buller argued at the roundtable that developers and OEMs must leverage their bottom-fixed turbine experiences and adapt what the parties have already learned. The best plan, he said, was to change as little as possible from bottom-fixed development.

Conversely, Gunnar Herzig, World Forum Offshore Wind co-founder, told the event "no-one quite knows" what the optimal number of designs is. Innovation will be followed by standardization, Herzig said, adding that commercialization will take place in the "not too distant future."

Aside from the difference in designs, especially below the surface of the water, one of the biggest areas of change from bottom-fixed offshore wind will be a longer lead time in picking the home port, Rick Campbell, UK-based consultancy Natural Power's head of offshore markets, told roundtable attendees. Most floating wind turbines are likely to be assembled port-side rather than out on the water, he added.

Buller agrees. One of the key challenges for floating wind is installation rates, he said. Developers must minimize the amount of loading and manufacturing space used at ports and the time of storage, he said. Equally, once the turbine is up and running, the industry has to find a solution to carrying out equipment fixes at sea and avoiding having to tow turbines back to port, he said.

This article was published by S&P Global Commodity Insights and not by S&P Global Ratings, which is a separately managed division of S&P Global.


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