Floating wind is on the brink of demonstrating that it is a “different type” of renewables technology, with Scotland among the regions that will provide a launch-pad to a sector now accelerating toward building gigawatt-scale projects and developing new-energy supply chains, in the view of the CEO of Spanish start-up BlueFloat.
Carlos Martin, who led EDPR’s milestone 25MW WindFloat Atlantic project, moored in the Portuguese Atlantic just over a year ago, told Recharge that the upcoming ScotWind licensing round, which includes deepwater acreage ideally suited to commercial floating arrays, will help distinguish the technology’s power production and economic development potential from that of conventional offshore wind.
“We believe that ScotWind will show floating to be fundamentally quite a different type of renewable compared to fixed offshore wind that requires different approaches and that also offers different opportunities,” he said. “And much more so than many in the market realise.
“It is true that [floating wind] still has to go through different steps of maturity [but] things are moving very, very fast.”
Scotland’s work hosting the world’s first floating wind array, the 30MW Hywind Scotland, as well as near-built 50MW Kincardine project, industry pioneers feel, could be translated to revolutionise an industrial landscape that has evolved out of more than 50 years of offshore oil & gas exploration and production.
But, as a report from BlueFloat and its ScotWind partner Falck Renewables, based on a Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) event that brought together wind developers community leaders, academics and policy makers, showed a range of “practicalities” remain to be solved if the country’s businesses and communities are to “fully reap the benefits”.
Sara Thiam, CEO of SCDI, called floating wind “a unique opportunity to create high value jobs and manufacturing, which will breathe new life into [the Scottish] economy” in the decades ahead.
“All the right ingredients are there - world class research and graduates, existing expertise in energy and natural resources which can be harnessed for the benefit of all,” she said.
Martin views the work with SCDI as “only confirming that floating offshore wind is a major opportunity to develop local economies much more that other renewables, in our view”.
“Engaging with the local supply chain, the local communities to start a dialogue to make that happen is something we see as fundamental,” he said.
Various barriers to lift-off are still to be broken down, including in areas such as consenting, where the report concluded “a change of approach from regulators is needed and a fresh look at the environmental impacts”, and getting more “smaller scale” grid-connected arrays into the water to build up a head of steam through industrialisation experience.
“The ScotWind round offers an exceptional opportunity to kick-start local industrial development around the enormous potential of floating wind,” said Martin. “We intend to work closely with the Scottish supply chain to integrate local strengths into the design of new projects.”
Several-times delayed, ScotWind, the first round of offshore wind leasing in Scottish waters for a decade, is widely perceived to be a “vital” accelerant in the development of the sector in the North Sea with expectations the tender could uncork a £9bn ($11.5bn) wave of investment in the regional industry as some 10GW of new plant is built.
Richard Dibley, MD of Falck Renewables, said: “With the Scottish government’s target [for offshore wind generation] equivalent to enough energy to power eight million homes by 2030, the upcoming leasing round for seabed sites represents an excellent opportunity to ensure that the whole of Scotland benefits.”
Martin added: “We are confident that floating wind can play a significant role [off Scotland]. We also understand many players will only focus on the fixed-bottom bit [of the auction] because that is what they ‘know’, that’s what they are good at, and realise that floating has certain very specific capabilities.
“There will be competition [for all the licences] but more so on the shallower-water ones rather than the floating.”
A recent report from the Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult pointed to UK floating wind development being on a trajectory to win renewable energy auctions “at subsidy-free levels” before the end of the decade.
Martin asserts Scotland should be kept in “global context” of a sector that will open up “many new geographies” to offshore wind and “many new areas in the more mature [bottom-fixed] markets”.
“The work we do in the really deep waters off Scotland – and Europe more widely, the work with do with innovative new solutions, like floating substations, for instance, will help make this the massive opportunity a reality,” he said.
The flexibility of floating wind as not only a pure-play renewables technology but also one that can be tailored for use as a clean-energy power source for offshore oil & gas fields – with the flagship 88MW Hywind Tampen array set for installation next year off Norway’s Snorre-Gullfaks complex – as well as hydrogen production – an application heading for first pilots including at Kincardine via the Dolphyn project – reveals just how “vast” a market it has before it, says Martin.
“I cannot see the limit for floating. Beyond the utility-scale projects [the industry] is now developing, there is hydrogen on the horizon, for which floating is well-positioned.
“We can now think about ‘mining’ wind with floating projects in the best places around the world, to generate hydrogen as cheaply as possible and ship around with vessels. This will happen sooner than we think.”
Scotland, wading out into an offshore energy transition unlike any other region in the world, faces a “major revolution” but one that is “feasible”, Martin said, given the industrial and political alignment shaping up.
“The opportunities are definitely there, the policies are being put in place to meet that objective [of building out gigawatts of floating wind off Scotland] and I think challenges remains around engaging in a dialogue with the different stakeholders and players, to align our interests and efforts.”
Scotland’s floating wind sector’s slow emergence from its industrial chrysalis reflects a broader “tipping point” being reached in Europe, where some 7GW is predicted to be turning by 2030, and globally, where forecasts point to a 250GW-plus market by mid-century, Rival agrees.
“Look back at the history of other renewables. They have all gone through a similar process: slow starts and sudden acceleration through technological innovation and cost reduction. Absolutely we are observing something happening here [in Scotland] with floating wind, and in Spain [where BlueFloat is moving forward with development of a 1GW play], and elsewhere. Success will build success.”