Contributed by Faiz Abdulla, Allianz Global Corporate & Speciality
As economies ramp up their commitments to decarbonize and transition to net-zero, many are turning to renewable energies like floating offshore wind farms to support global action. A number of European countries are also taking steps to accelerate their transition from fossil fuels because of recent geopolitical tensions. Floating offshore wind is now in the spotlight.
The recent urgency to decarbonize is undoubtedly a major factor in this growth rate. In fact, in 2020 the Global Wind Energy Council forecasted that the floating offshore wind market would grow from 17 MW in 2020 to 6,500 MW by 2030. However, their 2030 estimate was revised to 16,500 MW in 2021. Furthermore, GWEC suggests the testing and trials of floating offshore wind technology came to an end in the previous decade, meaning floating offshore wind technology is on the brink of commercial-scale deployment with 2026 expected to be a major tipping point.
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To commercialize our power system with floating offshore wind, it must be deployed and generated in areas of deeper water with higher, more consistent wind speeds. The list of countries keen to assess its feasibility outside Europe includes South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the US, where the Department of Energy is investing more than $100 million into researching, developing, and demonstrating floating offshore wind technology, with a particular eye on California.
The Biden administration has increased the Wind Energy budget from $60 million in 2009 to $200 million next. A portion of this will be used to develop floating platform designs. Floating offshore winds is also being studied for its potential to transform seawater into hydrogen for storage or export.
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Before floating offshore wind turbines are commercially viable, there are technical challenges to overcome. This will require innovative solutions from manufacturers, developers, and the supply chains. According to the Floating Wind Joint Industry Project (FWJIP), an R&D initiative between the Carbon Trust and 17 international offshore wind developers, these challenges are common to several floating wind projects and suitable for industry-led collaborative R&D. These include heavy lift maintenance and logistics for wind farms further from ports, tow maintenance and moorings within challenging environments. Water depth, whether it’s very deep or very shallow, can be problematic, as can seismic environments and certain seabed conditions.
Cabling is another important concern. Floating offshore wind requires the use of dynamic power cables that float alongside the foundation. Dynamic cables are more susceptible to stresses than conventional submarine cables. They are also subject to platform movement, tensile loads deep in the ocean, and hydrodynamic stresses from currents and waves. This cabling technology was developed based on experience from the oil & gas industry. However submarine power cables tend not to carry higher voltages, which increases insulation requirements and thus the overall weight.
Engineers will need to take into account additional design considerations like cable strength, flotation flexibility, temperature regulation and flexibility. To handle the higher power output of the newer, more powerful wind turbines in the future, it will be necessary to develop new generation dynamic cables.
With testing and trials underway for decades, recent technological innovations in floating offshore wind have begun to emerge that many hope will further reduce and ultimately minimize the risks associated with their massive scale, hydro/aerodynamics, and instability. In past years, floating offshore wind systems were initially tested in windy and relatively shallow waters such as the North Sea. But now developers have found technical solutions to place floating offshore wind turbines in areas that used to be unfeasible—deeper, more windy areas where 80% of the world’s offshore wind blows.
For instance, the Windfloat Atlantic floating offshore wind project that is operating 20 km offshore Viana do Castelo, Portugal (pictured above) is the world’s first running semi-submersible floating platform that deploys standard offshore wind turbines in waters deeper than 40 m.
As an engineered solution customizable to specific project requirements, including wind turbine generators, metocean conditions, infrastructure constraints, and project size, the technology enables flexibility given the number of design variables (column spacing, column diameter, draft, truss diameter, heave plate architecture, etc.). The system can generate enough electricity for approximately 60,000 households and is a major milestone in the technological advancement of the offshore wind energy industry.
There are more innovations to overcome floating offshore wind challenges. This includes the construction of the foundation at quayside. The TetraSpar Demonstration Project, the world’s first full-scale demonstration of an industrialized offshore foundation (pictured above) carried out in a partnership between RWE, Shell, TEPCO Renewables, and Stiesdal, achieved a range of world firsts, including the automated factory manufacturing of the foundation components, and the welding-free assembly at the quayside, reducing time and energy. The TetraSpar can currently be operated at a depth of 200m.
There are more opportunities for innovation in a number of related areas going forward. Wind farms with hydrogen-producing plants and prototype airborne windturbines, such as airships, are two examples of interesting developments. In Holland, the largest (fixed) wind farm on freshwater inland was established last year.
Recently, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult (ORE) Catapult and the National Decommissioning Centre(NDC) joined forces in the UK to collaborate on three projects focusing upon floating offshore wind development.
The first project will study marine operations related to the installation and maintenance of floating offshore wind turbines utilizing NDC’s advanced simulation systems. The second project will develop a tool that can suggest optimal design solutions for platforms, anchoring, and dynamic cables systems for different budgets and site conditions. The last project will examine the interaction of floating offshore winds farms and the marine environment, using the collaboration knowledge of various environmental stakeholders.
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In the coming years, there will be more pressure to produce energy from the ground. Onshore wind and solar use a lot land. This can cause conflicts with agricultural and housing needs. This is not to mention the sound and visual impacts that can be caused by these technologies in certain locations. These concerns are combined with regulatory pressures for decarbonization and growing public anxiety about climate change.
However, floating offshore wind turbines are less intrusive than fixed ones, which may allow for more large-scale developments that have less impact on the human domestic environment. This is especially true given the expected need to expand inter-country and state grid connections and port and manufacturing facilities to improve supply-chains.
As the industry emerges from the realm of R&D, prototyping, and feasibility studies, there are now calls for policymakers to commit to it with a supportive regulatory framework, investment in infrastructure, and funding and investment solutions that will support the commercial roll-out.
Industry experts say that this is the only way FoW’s seemingly limitless potential can be harnessed and fully integrated into energy markets.
About the author
Faiz Abdulla is a Senior Underwriter at Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty which is a leading global corporate insurance carrier. As part of the Chief Underwriting Office within the Energy & Construction line of business, Faiz has a global role with a focus on steering the insurance portfolio and underwriting strategy of Power and Oil & Gas business. This includes operational and construction risks, both onshore as well as those related to renewable power. Faiz has been working in the insurance industry for approximately 15 years. Faiz was previously employed by AXA XL, Willis Towers Watson and other prominent industry players. Faiz is an engineer by background with a Master’s degree in management and professional qualifications from leading insurance institutes including the Chartered Insurance Institute of the UK.