Floating wind’s massive scale ambitions will fail unless sustainability and coexistence with other sea users are part of its DNA from the moment the first large projects hit the water, a panel of leading industry figures told a Recharge roundtable on the sector’s next steps.

With gigascale project plans now emerging almost daily, the Recharge Floating Wind Forum 2023 heard that ensuring future plants complement rather than conflict with marine environments and economies will help decide the sector’s success.

“Unless we find ways of establishing good projects that other users of the sea find acceptable, there will not be scale,” said Sonja Chirico Indrebø, head of floating wind at global offshore project giant Corio Generation.

Indrebø was backed by Orsted floating wind programme head Gabriel Davies, who told the panel that “maturing [floating] technology sustainably and minimising impact on marine environment” is one of the key lessons the fledgling floating sector needs to carry over from fixed-bottom development.

A shift to non-price-based criteria in government auctions for seabed or power that reward factors such as environmental innovation and sustainability can help that process, Davies believes, as well as helping to head off a “race to the bottom” on price that has left the fixed-bottom offshore wind supply chain facing crushing cost pressures.

Ingrid Lomelde, group head of sustainability at Mainstream Renewable Power, said non-price auction criteria are a way to “unleash the opportunities” around sustainability, which she said “is increasingly underscoring the urgency of our industry”.

Lomelde said it is imperative that floating “demonstrates that wider sense of value – social and environmental value in addition to industrialisation”.

Industrialisation was in its own right another key theme of the Recharge panel on Floating Wind Global Game Changers, the first of two held as part of the Digital Roundtable.

Equinor head of floating wind Steinar Berge said policymakers need to help the industry and its supply chain to scale up by providing “transparent and effective” regulatory regimes that give strong visibility of pipeline.

That will enable the supply chain to make the necessary investments in infrastructure and plants, said Berge. “You need a pipeline – it’s very expensive to put up something new, and if you don’t have a steady demand afterwards it’s very risky.”

Stephan Buller, head of offshore portfolio management at turbine giant Siemens Gamesa, said although wind OEMs are facing considerable pressures, there is potential for floating to reap rewards from the numbers and size of machines produced for fixed-bottom wind.

“Floating can benefit from the scale we have in the neighbouring industry,” said Buller.

One of the big opportunities for the floating sector highlighted by the panel was in opening new markets such as Italy, where Copenhagen Offshore Partners (COP) is advancing gigascale projects in waters that its Italy CEO Michele Schiavone said was barely on the industry’s radar just a few years ago.

Schiavone said new markets can play a key role for floating by mobilising infrastructure, from manufacturing down to harbours and installation”.

The COP executive added: “Italy has a good tradition in oil & gas and steel manufacturing – not directed at offshore wind so far but floating can help us mobilise this capacity.”

A full replay of the Recharge Floating Wind Forum is available here