Offshore wind is a much-talked about topic these days, but floating offshore wind is still entering the mainstream conversation! This type of renewable energy actually goes back much further than many people realize; it goes back more than 50 years! And the industry has a promising future. Take a trip back in time with us to see exactly where the floating wind turbine got its start, and then let’s head to the future to see where it’s going in the coming years.
What is Floating Offshore Wind?
Floating offshore wind is a clean and renewable energy source that is based on the idea of traditional offshore wind solutions. However, unlike traditional turbines that require a foundation, floating solutions instead do what they advertise – they float! In comparison, floating offshore wind turbines can be much easier to construct and install than their traditional counterparts.
And since they don’t require a foundation, they can increase the available sea area that we can use for energy production. For example, some locations have sensitive ecosystems on the seabed that a wind turbine’s foundation can disrupt. In these cases, floating offshore wind can be used instead. Floating structures can also be placed in shallower and deeper waters where traditional structures cannot be used.
When Did Floating Offshore Wind Get its Start?
Floating offshore wind was actually first introduced in 1972 by Professor William E. Heronemus who was working at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Known as the “father of modern windpower,” he was actually the inventor of the windship, wind furnace, wind turbine array, and much of the terminology we use today to describe wind farms and their functions! Bill, as he was commonly called, also predicted the energy difficulties the world would face in the coming decades and saw the importance of renewable energy.
What Did the First Offshore Wind Turbines Look Like?
However, even though the idea of them was discussed in 1972, floating offshore wind as a reality really didn’t take off until the mid 1990s, after commercial wind farms had been established. Research began and the first floating wind turbine prototype (using a tension leg platform) was deployed by Blue H Technologies in 2007 near Apulia, Italy. It was placed 13.2 miles off the coast in waters that were 371 deep with the main purpose of gathering test data on sea and wind conditions. The prototype was decommissioned at the end of 2008.
In 2009, an operational large capacity floating wind turbine by Siemens Wind Power with a tower built by Technip was installed in the North Sea near Norway known as Hywind (or Hywind Demo). Here are some quick facts about the first operational floating wind turbine:
- It was owned by StatoilHydro but was sold in 2019.
- The entire structure cost $62 million to build and install.
- It is 213 feet tall and weighs 5,300 tons.
- The turbine is located 7 miles off the island of Karmoey.
- The floating foundation is anchored by three cables and has water and rocks placed inside.
After this initial operational floating wind turbine got underway, a number of other prototypes were installed around the world, including Portugal, the Americas, Japan, China, and the Canary Islands.
When Were the First Floating Offshore Wind Farms Put into Use?
The first floating offshore wind farm, known as Hywind Scotland, was put into operation in 2017 by Equinor. Every year since its introduction, it has “achieved the highest average capacity factor of all UK offshore windfarms, proving the potential of floating offshore wind farms.” In addition, compared to the Hywind Demo, it has managed to see 60-70% in cost savings. Made up of 5 turbines, the park covers 4 square kilometers and has a capacity of 30 MW. Just over 830 feet tall, Hywind Scotland’s turbines use a spar-type substructure, and they are in a water depth of 311 to 394 feet. Today, the floating wind farm powers between 20,000 and 34,000 homes in the United Kingdom and has a capacity factor of 54% – higher than the expectations of 51% made in previous years!
What Does the Future of Floating Offshore Wind Farms Look Like?
Today, the largest floating wind farm is Hywind Tampen, 86 miles off the Norwegian coast. Producing its first energy in November 2022, Equinor is also behind this massive project. The farm features a joint mooring system and is capable of powering oil and gas installations as well. Technically still under construction, the company is expected to have 11 wind turbines featured on the farm in 2023 and a capacity of 88 MW.
A few other facts you should know about Hywind Tampen:
- When fully operational, Equinor will own 47% of the floating wind capacity in the world.
- Other companies involved in the project include Petoro, OMV, Vår Energi, Wintershall Dea, and INPEX Idemitsu Norge AS.
- It is in a water depth of 853 feet to 985 feet.
- It uses a shared anchoring system with concrete structures.
Due to the success of Equinor’s first floating wind farm, many other countries are moving toward using this technology off their own shores. Major projects are being constructed in Korea, China, and the United Kingdom at the moment, and others, including the United States, Scotland, Australia, and Scotland, are researching just how beneficial this renewable energy source can be. In 2022, the Biden-Harris Administration also announced it is aiming to have 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind capacity by 2035 near California, Oregon, and the Gulf of Maine. That type of power would be able to provide electricity to more than 5 million Americans.
What Lessons Have Been Learned In the Floating Offshore Wind Industry So Far?
There are no doubt challenges that the floating offshore wind industry faces. These can include harsh weather conditions, high wind speeds, large waves, and issues with maintenance and necessary repairs due to the harsher environment. As a result, companies have had to adjust their approach to maintaining and repairing their turbines and come up with unique strategies to meet these challenges head on. Equinor, for example, uses an operations and maintenance (O&M) model that helps upskill and train current onshore wind technicians so they are able to handle the unique challenges of offshore wind turbines.
Quite a few things are still being researched in the field, and there are plenty of lessons being learned every day in the industry. As a result, the floating offshore wind farm industry has a better understanding of:
- How fishers can work safely and efficiently around wind farms.
- Mapping fish presences.
- Analyzing environmental DNA.
- Potential operational improvements.
- Wave impact on wear and tear.
- How a floating wind farm can withstand larger waves (up to 33 feet) and still produce power.
- Methods for cost reduction, including reduction in assembly costs.
- The implementation of a floating wind turbine motion controller, which has since been installed at Hywind Scotland.
- It is capable of reducing fatigue while also increasing production.
How Can Shea Writing and Training Solutions Help With the Future of Your Floating Offshore Wind Farm?
With the relatively new introduction of floating offshore wind farms in the grand scheme of things, it’s important to understand where to go with your new project. This is a developing industry – and one that will likely face numerous challenges, not only from the environment, but from regulations as well.
One aspect of your work that requires special attention? The documentation. Without proper documentation every step of the way, your floating offshore wind farm could end before it has ever really begun. Technical writing ensures you’re meeting industry and government standards at the local, state, and federal levels while also keeping your costs lower thanks to well written operational and management procedures.
Shea Writing and Training Solutions can help you document every aspect of your new floating offshore wind farm project, from getting it off the ground and getting the proper permits to opening day and beyond. We have expertise in writing maintenance manuals, procedures, employee handbooks, safety manuals, training solutions, operation manuals, and more. We specialize in writing this material for non-technical users so the right people within your organization can understand every aspect of their work and what’s required of them, too.
So if it’s time to start or continue getting your floating offshore wind turbines out to sea, we’re here to help. Discover how we can assist you with your ongoing project here or get in touch with us by filling out this form. There is no question floating offshore wind has a bright future ahead of it! Years of research and development have brought the industry to where it is today, and with further research, we’re likely to see additional improvements to operations, lower costs, and better implementation of the turbines. And with the major recent developments only being six years old at the time of writing, it’s exciting to see what the coming years hold for this type of renewable energy. And we’re looking forward to working with you to make that future a reality.