Senior executives from power giant Iberdrola and oil & gas supermajor Shell said their industries are set to work together to make large-scale floating wind a reality, as a Recharge roundtable on the sector's future was told “you can’t be serious about net-zero without it”.

Jonathan Cole, Iberdrola’s offshore wind business managing director, and Shell’s floating wind unit general manager Vincent Fromont said collaborations between key players in their sectors and others will be vital to helping the fast-emerging floating market leap two of the big challenges still facing it – the need for scale and cost reduction.

Cole told Recharge’s Digital Roundtable: “Scale has to happen – most of the cost reduction benefits come from scale, so we need big projects to emerge.”

That will mean “some pretty big projects with pretty big capital requirements”, said the Iberdrola executive, who leads offshore strategy for the Spanish power giant that’s been a pioneer of fixed-foundation deployments and recently committed to become a leader in the floating offshore market.

“I think the market probably does lend itself to collaborations,” said Cole, adding that as well as financial firepower the oil & gas majors “have a lot to offer” because of their technical expertise.

If you’re serious about net-zero and the climate agenda, you have to be serious about floating wind.

“I welcome them to the market, there’s going to be some interesting opportunities for collaboration,” said Cole, who added that whether you come from the power or fossil fuel sectors, “if you’re serious about net zero and the climate agenda, then you have to now be serious about floating offshore wind”.

Oil & gas expertise

Shell’s Fromont told the digital event that floating offshore wind “is a global market [with] a perfect alignment with markets which are core within Shell”. He cited South Korea, France, Japan, Scotland and Norway as areas where “we see a lot of appetite” and singled out upcoming tender rounds in France and Scotland as opportunities for floating.

Fromont, who joined Shell through its takeover of French floating wind specialist Eolfi last year, also predicted that “the future is going to be floating” in Japan.

“The key is to work in partnership, capitalise on the experience of an oil & gas player like Shell – that’s key because alone it will be very difficult to be successful,” said Fromont.

“There is huge expertise and experience in a company like Shell … in terms of how to optimise the floating solution.” Fromont added that his company is already working with the power sector in US fixed-foundation offshore wind, via its alliance with utility-owned EDPR.

The Eolfi takeover was just the latest signals by Shell that it intends to make a march on the sector, having taken an early interest in floating wind technology through a 2015 investment in Principle Power’s WindFloat concept.

More recently the supermajor bought a controlling stake in Stiesdal Offshore Technologies’ innovative TetraSpar, which is set for prototype testing off Norway next year, and formed a joint development agreement with floating wind specialist CoensHexicon for a project off the city of Ulsan in South Korea.

Other oil & gas-based groups already active in floating wind include Norway’s Equinor, which built the world’s first commercial-scale array off Scotland, and France’s Total which has recently announced big plans in the sector.

Supply change challenge

Principle Power CEO João Metelo, whose platform underpins the pioneering 25MW WindFloat Atlantic (WFA) array off Portugal, told the Recharge roundtable that floating’s next big question to answer will be around large-scale deployments of 100MW or more. “The challenge will be focused on supply chain. That requires a change of focus,” said Metelo.

Clement Mochet, business development director at Vryhof, a specialist in the mooring systems that are crucial for floating wind’s success, said the next key area for his sector to tackle would be “predictive maintenance. This is something [where] mooring systems have not been very strong”.

Advances in the field would give floating plant operators new ability in “detecting, analysing and acting” to improve O&M, said Mochet.

Clement Weber, a director at Green Giraffe, the Paris-based renewable energy financial advisors, said the first wave of big floating wind projects may be backed by the investors that helped realise the early growth of fixed-foundation offshore wind, but are now finding opportunities there harder to come by.

“[In] floating you still have a premium. Those that have been pioneers in the early years in bottom-fixed … are looking more and more at floating for a return that matches their expectations,” said Weber.

The digital roundtable, hosted by Recharge Editor-in-Chief Darius Snieckus, opened with a live interview with Bruno Geschier, chairman of the floating wind committee at industry body World Forum Offshore Wind.

As the sector grows, Geschier urged it not to lose sight of the key role that local players can fulfill in tailoring floating wind to the specific needs of markets, alongside moves by the likes of Shell and Iberdrola.

“Growth will not depend only on these world leaders. If we want this industry to grow everywhere at the same pace, smaller local players engaging with local policymakers and stakeholders will be able to contribute as much,” predicted Geschier.

A recording of yesterday's Recharge Digital Roundtable is available here.

Floating could outstrip fixed: MHI Vestas CEO

Floating wind could be a larger market than fixed-bottom offshore wind, and will be central to the entire industry’s agenda within a decade, predicted the CEO of turbine manufacturer MHI Vestas.

Philippe Kavafyan told the Recharge Digital Roundtable that the floating sector is poised for a “fantastic growth rate” if it can address the challenges it faces.

“Within 10 years the entire industry will be influenced by the development of the floating segment.

“As a turbine manufacturer … we believe [floating] is going to be as strong if not even bigger than what we see today in fixed foundation.”

MHI Vestas, a joint venture between Danish wind giant Vestas and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, is one of the offshore wind sector’s leading turbine suppliers with machines already powering pioneering floating projects such as WindFloat Atlantic.

Kavafyan told the Recharge event there is a “Darwinian selection” underway in floating wind technology, and the sector still has key lessons to learn when it starts to industrialise to the level of 50 or 100 turbines at a time.

But he predicted floating can play a crucial role in keeping the global offshore wind sector growing, as it can use different logistical resources to fixed-foundation projects where a supply chain bottleneck could be looming.