Floating wind power projects could be competitive with conventional offshore wind as early as 2026, according to new calculations from Rethink Technology Research (RTR), but hinge on a global build-out rate that remains uncertain due to likely “delays or [market] turbulence”.

The Bristol, UK-based anaylyst group sees a large forecast “leeway” between its low- and high-end 2030 scenarios – 11.8GW and 18.9GW – given the sector’s reliance on “auctions and government sponsored deals” that could suffer postponement, deferral or under-investment in the coming decade.

“A forecast that offers that amount of leeway – a full 7.1 GW – [might be thought] about as much use as a ‘chocolate teapot’,” stated RTR principle analyst Peter White. “If you simply survey all of the ‘well known’ developer segments around the world, you come up with a figure of around 15GW. But many of these involve auctions and government sponsored deals that we believe will be delayed, deferred and under invested by 2030.”

“Most of these initiatives - in the UK, France, Portugal, Japan, the US, South Korea and Taiwan will meet some form of delay or turbulence along the way and while they are all supposed to be complete by 2030, we have not managed to convince ourselves that any of these will meet government inspired capacity targets by that date. We think most or all of them will eventually, but not by 2030.”

But White stressed that marketplace flux strikes a light for the more optimistic end of RTR’s forecast spread. “There are three or four floating platforms are now well established and can be shown to ‘do the job’, [and] there are many others which are not yet proven – some [of which] never will be – while others just need more time.

“As we get through these early years, the time to market for a new [offshore] territory can be brought down considerably, compared to these pioneering regions.”

He said there remained “plenty of time” to begin scaling in early-mover markets, while developing floating wind plays in regions where technology “should sit well, and could mature in plenty of time to be delivered in time” for a high-end forecast.

“This is a case of saying the market is 18.9GW with some downside, or 11.8GW with some upside. We would be fairly sure that if this was a 15-year forecast the numbers would be closer to 28GW.”

The floating wind sector has gone from consisting a single 2.3MW unit moored off the coast of Norway in 2009 to the brink of industrialisation, recently supercharged by an upsurge in utility-scale projects moving ahead in Asia, a region seen as central to the industrial aspirations of the rapidly emerging sector.

South Korea has a 1.4GW complex underway, including a 200MW project recently sanctioned by developer Equinor and its two in-country partners, and Japan has a “multi-hundred megawatt” development being advanced by France’s Ideol and partner Shizen Energy.

Petro-state Saudi Arabia is the latest to join the trend, with Abu Dhabi-headquartered renewables investment group Plambeck Emirates having signed a memorandum of understanding with Italian offshore contractor Saipem to build a 500MW floating wind farm in the Persian Gulf off Saudi.

Last week, Recharge revealed the International Renewable Energy Agency has doubled its 2050 expectation of installed offshore wind capacity to 1TW, including 150-250GW of floating wind.