The world’s floating wind power fleet could expand at a speed much slower than many in the emerging sector are expecting, with a new study from Scotland’s University of Strathclyde suggesting 4.3GW – rather than the 12-15GW forecast by a range of analysts and developers – is likely to be switched-on by 2030.

The study, which ran the rule over some 60 international projects, calculated that of the 5.9GW “on-record” development pipeline, factors from “over-ambition to the sheer uncertain nature of the planning process” would lead to a “large number not materialising”.

Mathew Hannon, the lead author of the report, which was part-supported by energy consultancy DNV GL, said: “While we don’t disagree that [this estimate] is on the conservative side, we ‘sense checked’ some of our assumptions against what has happened in the [bottom-fixed] offshore wind market and used UK planning data to understand what proportion of projects make their way through.

“It was remarkably similar: scaling up from 57MW [of floating wind power installed] today to 4.3GW by 2030 it is roughly comparable to how quickly the same [growth] took place in conventional offshore wind.”

The report authors also point to a number of potentially calculus-changing “caveats” to their figures, including China, where there is little accessible data on the country’s first floating pilots or longer-horizon plans; Brexit, due to the impact on the world-leading UK market of losing European support funding for technology; and the hard-to-quantify fact that the floating wind sector will benefit from coming “hot on the heels” of an offshore wind business that has rapidly moved from experimental technology to mainstream energy source.

“Floating wind isn’t as novel as its predecessor was,” said Hannon. “To the investment community, to the developer community, this isn’t any way as alien as offshore wind was 15 years ago. And there is a much more robust supply chain in place, which is a big part the cost profile.”

“That this is recognised is clear from the oil & gas companies that have moved into this space: Equinor, with their development Hywind technology both as pure-play floating wind and as part of a wind-to-gas project with Hywind Tampen, Shell with [its backing of Stiesdal Offshore Technologies’] TetraSpar [set for prototyped testing next year off Norway],” said Hannon.

“There is a lot of intrigue around floating wind and these oil & gas incumbents stepping in is critical to scaling this up, we’ve seen this with the bottom-fixed sector. It points to the bigger prize that far-offshore, deepwater offshore wind represents.”

The report also highlights that the floating wind market is likely to see an updraft from the role expected to be played by overall offshore wind power production in achieving the Paris Agreement’s emissions reduction targets.

“The IEA {International Energy Agency] Sustainable Development scenarios see offshore wind scaling up from 66TWh a year to 606TWh by 2030. That’s a factor of nine in 12 years. Floating wind will be needed for offshore wind to continue grow,” said Hannon.

Though Europe, with over half of the total floating wind capacity installed and expectations for some 350MW off its coasts  by 2021, is the current market pace-setter, the report points out Asian plays in Japan and Korea, as well as the US Pacific, have recently heaved into view with international-scale ambitions, with California most recently seeing set-up of a coalition that is calling on the state government to support construction of 10GW of floating wind by 2045.

Norwegian energy giant Equinor set out a road map in 2017, when it brought online the world's first floating wind array, Hywind Scotland, which forecast 12-15GW of moored units turning by 2030 at a levellised cost of energy of €40-60/MWh ($44-66/MWh), the current price of conventional offshore wind power.