Last week’s oversubscribed, 5.5GW INTOG lease round gives Scotland a floating offshore wind pipeline of 23.3GW. It highlights the bullish attitudes of developers on floating wind.
The committed floating leases in Scotland are equivalent to the combined current installed offshore wind capacity of UK, German and Belgian waters.
Such a pipeline is indicative of the belief that floating offshore wind will become cost effective in areas unsuited to fixed technology. INTOG’s innovation projects and small, targeted oil and gas developments are likely to be in the water from 2028 or before.
Some have already completed permitting and development milestones, such as Orsted, Simply Blue and Subsea 7’s 100MW Salamander project. This makes them a useful testbed for de-risking technology and installation methodologies while building Scottish supply chain capacity.
As oil and gas platforms near the end of their life, their demand for electricity will fall. So large offshore wind projects for these platforms need to be deployed on a similar deployment timeframe as the smaller innovation projects for their developers to generate commercial returns.
But there are still plenty of challenges to be overcome for floating to become cost effective. Until those challenges are overcome and costs and risks fall, developers will find it difficult to make final investment decisions on large-scale floating projects. That is why most commentators see global floating wind pipeline as a post-2030 opportunity.
The optimistic view is that these projects can spark the commercialisation of large-scale floating wind and demonstrate new offtake arrangements. They might also help progress the repurposing of offshore oil and gas platforms for green hydrogen or e-fuels.
Realising these projects, however, is not going to be an easy task. There are still significant unanswered questions about the technologies and processes they will use. The design and manufacture of floating substructures, substations, and their mooring and anchoring systems have not yet been optimised. Many concept options at varying degrees of maturity exists. The port logistics and installation procedures for large floating projects have not been fully defined yet either.
With substructure technology and turbine size evolving rapidly, the optimisation and financing of these projects is a moving target. Floating will would benefit from stepping-stone projects of between 200MW and 400MW, but few exist at the moment. Projects of this size would answer the burning technological and logistical questions that large, targeted oil and gas projects have.
Due to their size and 200km-plus distance from shore, large INTOG projects are likely to require HVDC transmission links. Work is still ongoing to identify how these should be incorporated into the future holistic network design. These new projects also present novel consenting challenges. For example, what is their impact on vessel and air traffic servicing North Sea oil and gas fields?
In having to overcome these challenges, the INTOG projects could prove the trailblazers for a commercially buoyant floating offshore wind sector. The larger INTOG projects should not be seen as speculative “risk capital” in the UK’s offshore wind portfolio.
They are critical in reducing UK emissions, as 10% of oil and gas production is used offshore in power generation. The UK Central North Sea contributes 18 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually, which needs to be reduced very significantly to reach Net Zero by 2050.
Success of early developments is vital to its credibility and the bankability of all projects.
Floating offshore wind is critical to the future of the offshore wind globally. The success of early developments is vital to its credibility and the bankability of all projects. INTOG can lay a blueprint for others to follow if challenges can be resolved swiftly.
It could also be a catalyst for Scotland to develop a floating offshore wind know how and supply chain that can deliver projects globally throughout the 2030s.
- Alun Roberts is associate director at BVGA