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CERAWeek: Iberdrola, Total see offshore wind as viable substitute for coal plants

04 March 2021 Amena Saiyid

The heads of Iberdrola and Total see offshore wind as a viable substitute for baseload coal-fired generation because it operates longer than either solar or onshore wind resources and boasts a higher capacity factor, or the average power that it generates compared to its nameplate capacity.

At a CERAWeek by IHS Markit discussion on 3 March, Iberdrola President Ignacio Galán said alternate forms of baseload generation will need to emerge with worldwide closures of coal-fired power plants, as more countries move toward a low-carbon future.

"I think the positive thing about offshore [wind] is it can be a good substitute for baseload because the number of hours of operation is very large, 4,000-5,000 hours, and it is very stable and predictable," said Galán, who also is chief executive officer of Iberdrola, a Spanish power company that ranks among the largest wind developers globally.

Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné, who participated in the panel discussion with Galán and IHS Markit Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin, agreed."I agree offshore wind is available 50-55% of the time when onshore wind is only 30%, so that makes a big difference," Pouyanné said.

The relative high strength of the capacity factors for offshore wind also came up as one of the reasons for the shift toward offshore wind in a 4 March CERAWeek discussion moderated by IHS Markit North American Renewable Power Director Rafael McDonald.

Offshore wind projects take advantage of the fact that wind blows stronger and more steadily over oceans than across land. However, installation of offshore wind farms is complex. The biggest problem lies in elevating wind turbines and substations above the sea level and anchoring them to the seabed.

Favorable View

Felipe Arbelaez, BP senior vice president for zero carbon energy, said offshore wind is being viewed favorably because it doesn't take up land, unlike onshore wind projects that require a lot of acreage sought by developers.

Political support for decarbonization policies has played a key role in support for offshore wind projects, but cost always remains a consideration for policymakers, according to Steve Dayney, head of Offshore North America for Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy.

However, he said, there have been dramatic declines in the cost of building offshore wind in the past three or four years.

Arbelaez said executives underestimated the rate of decline in the cost of renewable energy, and he expects the same to happen when significant improvements have been made in turbine design to improve efficiency.

During the 3 March discussion, Galán shared a $3 billion-$4 billion estimate of building each offshore wind project.

To date, Iberdola has already installed 1 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind in Britain, and in Germany, and is in the process of adding another 2.6 GW in the US, France, and Germany, Galán said. He said another 9 GW of pilings stand ready for construction.

300 GW in Pipeline

IHS Markit estimates the global pipeline of offshore wind projects now exceeds 300 GW, compared with nearly 35 GW currently installed. IHS Markit's McDonald asked the panelists whether the installation of more than 300 GW was possible within the next decade or so.

"There is appetite on the investment side," responded Agustín Delgado, Iberdrola's chief innovation and sustainability officer.

Looking ahead, McDonald also asked about the prospects for floating offshore wind, which Pouyanné a day earlier had described as the "new frontier" of clean energy technology.

Infancy of Technology

Most panelists said floating offshore wind, which McDonald described as "two flavors," is still resting in the "infancy of technology" unlike its more established onshore counterpart. But they all agreed it has definite promise.

Delgado said floating offshore wind projects are attractive because they can tap into global supply chains for materials and skills, and do not run into the restrictions of being too close to land. Dayney expects a surge in construction after 2030.

But for now, power companies and oil and natural gas companies can collaborate, using their skills and expertise in pushing out more offshore wind projects.

Galán said Iberdrola has the knowledge and the skills to spread offshore wind's footprint, and welcomes the participation of new players from the oil and gas business to help with the energy transition.

When Yergin asked whether Total could transfer the experience of working on offshore oil and gas rigs to offshore, Pouyanné responded that the supply chain working for offshore wind is the same as the one working for the oil and gas business. In fact, he added, engineers at Total are "excited" about working on offshore projects.

Posted 04 March 2021 by Amena Saiyid, Senior Climate and Energy Research Analyst


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