The UK lost an opportunity to build on its early leadership in the floating wind market by not supporting the sector with technology-specific auctions, but can still right the ship by “going straight to gigawatt-scale” in upcoming auctions, believes Grzegorz Gorski, chief operating officer of European developer Ocean Winds.

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Gorski said industry lobbied the British government “for several years” to jump-start the burgeoning sector, which in 2017 saw its first industrial-scale array installed in the UK North Sea yet has struggled to progress several other demonstrator projects, including the delayed 50MW Kincardine, now about to come online off Scotland three years late.

“For several years we were telling the [UK] government that floating [wind] needed to be kick-started, there were great zones off northern Scotland with [winds of] 12 metres per second (m/s) [compared to North Sea averages of 7-9m/s] but that needed floating [because of water depths],” said Gorski, being interviewed for WindTV at the WindEnergy Hamburg industry conference.

“Finally, the government agreed and that floating … needs to have a separate ‘basket’ [in the UK Contract for Difference (CfD) auctions]”, referring to the decision in November by the UK Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to let floating compete in upcoming CfD round’s so-called ‘Pot 2’ with other ‘less mature’ technologies, such as wave, tidal and geothermal.

The UK and its North Sea neighbour Norway, with their deep water and heavy northern seawinds, Gorski noted, would be key to Europe achieving its ‘high scenario’ plan for offshore wind power by mid-century, as outlined in the recent European Commission offshore renewable energy strategy which set the target of 300GW of offshore wind from EU waters but would need 450GW to meet 2050 decarbonisation objectives.

“If we add [the UK and Norway] then we can get close in Europe to realising the most ambitious vision that [industry advocacy body] WindEurope has promoted in the last years,” said Gorski.

“The proportion of this [total capacity] that is floating [wind] will be growing and growing as we go father and deeper [offshore]”, he said, adding that he expects “around a third”, or 115GW, installed off Europe by 2050 to be floating.

“I think Europe could go faster now, nevertheless, with bigger projects. France, which was a pioneer, is about to start four pilots and has next year a 250MW tender for commercial scale projects … and a roadmap for the first gigawatt [of auctions in the next three years],” said Gorski.

“I would say that [Europe needs] to now go straight to gigawatt-scale [floating wind farms],” he said.

This scale-up, Gorksi stated, would allow cost reduction to take place at a “much faster pace” than has been seen in bottom-fixed, which has brought its levellised cost of energy (LCOE) down from around €200/MWh ($240/MWh) earlier this decade to around €50/MWh.

“I am not expecting the same pace [as with bottom-fixed], I am expecting a much faster pace,” said Gorski. “The reason for this is that floating is using to a large extent the same supply chain as bottom-fixed, so all the achievements of [commercialised] technology can be taken advantage of for floating.

“We need to use this to accelerate up the learning curve,” he added, pointing to next-generation platform design and dynamic mooring cables as “key focuses” for the sector.

Gorski laurelled Korea as the “current leader” in floating wind, pointing to Ocean Wind’s own 1.5GW project off the industrial city of Ulsan, and the government ambition to develop 13GW of offshore wind plant off its coast by 2030 to move the nation toward a target of having at least 30% renewable energy in its national mix by 2040.

Calculations by DNV GL suggest close to half of a vast 255GW global fleet of floating wind turbines forecast for installation around the world by mid-century will be moored in the Asia Pacific region.

“On the technology side we are ready to go for gigawatt-scale projects – you need the scale to get the lower LCOE” that will make the developer’s choice between bottom-fixed and floating wind “one where only water depths will dictate which will be used”, said Gorski.

A recent forecast from the UK Carbon Trust sees up to 10.7GW of floating wind installed through to 2030 before the market mushrooms, with a total project value approaching €220bn by the end of next decade as LCOE drops to €40-60/MWh from levels today that are three times that.