Floating Offshore Wind – Which Coast Will Have It First?

Author: Val Stori, Clean Energy Group | Projects: Offshore Wind Accelerator Project, Northeast Wind Resource Center

VolturnUS floating demo. Photo courtesy of the University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composite Center.

As floating wind nears commercialization, the technology’s potential role in reducing costs for projects in deep waters has become increasingly attractive in numerous markets. Scotland, France, Japan, Spain, and Portugal all have pilot projects underway. Statoil’s pioneering 30MW floating wind farm ‘Buchanan Deep’ (also known as the Hywind Pilot Park UK) is expected to begin delivering power late this year or early next year, providing enough power for 20,000 households. The Hywind Pilot Park will be not only the largest floating offshore wind farm, but also the first offshore project with integrated energy storage. The ground-breaking storage component of the project—known as Batwind—will incorporate a 1MWh lithium battery storage system on the mainland to optimize the farm’s output and smooth out intermittencies. Statoil believes the storage system will improve efficiency and lower offshore wind costs.

Full-scale floating projects are advancing in Scotland, France and Japan, and momentum for floating offshore wind at deeper water sites in the US is growing. In fact, next month, the Business Network for Offshore Wind is holding a one-day conference in California; the morning sessions are dedicated to discussions on opportunities and priorities of floating wind, and the afternoon session includes a Q&A session with global floating industry leaders including Statoil, Principle Power, and Trident Energy.

It may be a race to see where floating offshore wind is developed first in the US. On the east coast, nearer-shore, shallower waters are likely to be developed with fixed foundations before deep water sites with floating turbines, though the ease of installation (quay-side construction), reduced environmental impacts (less drilling), lack of need for specialized, heavy-lift vessels, and commercialization in Europe may bring cost reductions in floating technology sooner than anticipated. The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) just released a California offshore wind study identifying six potential commercial sites and modeling levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for floating turbines. The NREL analysis estimates the LCOE to decrease to approximately $100/MWh by 2030 (COD).

The east coast even has its own homegrown floating wind technology. The University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center has designed a semisubmersible concrete floating hull called the VolturnUS, which will be the foundation for the Aqua Ventus 12-MW floating demonstration project off of Monhegan Island, Maine. A University of Maine-led consortium plans to construct the project and begin providing power by 2019. The project’s goals include generating local economic development, providing cost-effective power, and eventually, exporting the technology to other states and markets worldwide.

In late April, the Island Institute will be holding its annual Island Energy Conference, which includes a trip to Monhegan Island on Saturday, April 29th. Join them on this beautiful island to learn about the island’s renewable energy efforts and the proposed Aqua Ventus project.