With first gigascale floating wind power projects taking shape around the world, the fast-emerging sector is “on the edge from innovation to industrialisation”, but the coming years will remain crucial for the transition from the pilots and pre-commercial demonstrators now in the water to production of “civilisation scale” power, a group of industry experts told a Recharge roundtable.

Scale-up of project size, standardisation of key technologies, and new models of collaboration the length of the sector supply chain, will all be central to unlocking construction of the 15GW-plus of floating plant anticipated by some analyst groups to turning by the end of the decade, and the more than 260GW foreseen online by mid-century, agreed the panel, convened for Floating wind power: the armadas head out to sea.

“From a single turbine installed off Norway in 2008, floating wind has made unprecedented industrial progress in devising and developing the technologies needed to transport the sector into full commercialisation this decade – with gigascale array projects taking shaping every major maritime region in the world,” said Recharge Editor in Chief Darius Snieckus.

“There is no doubt of the potential of floating wind to be central to supplying what has been referred to as ‘civilisation scale’ power but the next few years will be crucial to getting gears meshing.

“The expansion from the 100MW fleet now operating to 15GW forecast to be online by 2030 – and indeed the 250GW that could be turning by mid-century – hinges fundamentally on the scale-up of global port infrastructure, sector supply chains and – not least – government regulatory reform needed to accelerate it forward,” said Snieckus.

World Forum Offshore Wind (WFO) managing director Gunnar Herzig said: “We really need to make sure that next couple of years go right. Here we are talking about the next five, six or seven years,” adding that the industry must get the first couple of large projects right to capitalise on the sector’s “amazing outlook”.

Norwegian oil & gas major Equinor – which in 2008 pioneered development of the first floating wind turbine with a pilot project in the North Sea and has since been going on to build the 30MW Hywind Tampen and 88MW Hywind Tampen arrays – last week had said it plans to speed up industrialisation by building the 1GW Trollvind project, which will curb emissions from the giant Troll and Oseberg oil fields.

“It is important to understand that the Trollvind concept is a case that serves multiple purposes. It will strongly contribute to decarbonising oil & gas producing assets,” said Hanne Wigum, head of Equinor’s wind and solar power technology division.

“Then it also will deliver power to the Vestland area [around Bergen in north-western Norway], which is an area with high demand form the oil & gas industry, where we had shortages.”

Stephan Buller, head of offshore portfolio management at Siemens Gamesa – which has supplied turbines for Equinor’s floating wind projects so far – acknowledged the Norwegian oil giant’s role in bringing costs down over a series of projects.

“The key now is to really learn from the past and put it into larger projects,” Buller stressed. “We are on the edge [crossing] from innovation to standardisation.”

For the first wave of utility-scale floating projects, the sector can leverage it experience from bottom-fixed offshore wind, and also from deepwater flagships, such as the Hywind arrays, with “specific turbines for floating maybe only as a second step once we get the volume,” he added.

The floating wind supply chain can reap the benefits from the oil & gas sector and adopt technologies to a new context, such as developing floaters, anchor systems and moorings, with a fresh focus on the sustainability of the sector, said Ingrid Lomelde, sustainability chief at Aker Offshore Wind (AOW), which has corporate legacy connected to the offshore oil and maritime industries.

“But, or course, there is a difference from oil & gas in the sense that we need to move away from tailor-made to serial made if we really want to drive down costs and secure industrialisation,” Lomelde said.

Another difference from the oil & gas sector is that there is a “new set of expectations when it comes to sustainability”, which not only includes emissions reduction but also the protection of biodiversity.

Most countries in which AOW currently has project involvement have committed to net-zero targerts by 2050, she added, and most companies as well, which is an opportunity when building up a supply chain.

“The companies who can showcase experience and credibility in handling sustainability issues really from the start, are going to have an advantage,” said Lomelde.

Jonathan Boutrot, chief for marine renewable energies at testing and certification body Bureau Veritas, reminded the roundtable that certification also impacts the quality and cost of floating projects, with “normalisation and standardisation” being key parameters to reach economically viable projects.

“Setting a clear and homogeneous regulatory context, and developing an appropriate technical standards for all aspects of floating wind projects, will demonstrate to all stakeholders that risks are well identified and mitigated – with no grey area,” he said.

· A full recording of the Recharge digital roundtable Floating wind power: the armadas head out to sea can be seen here.