Almost everyone knows what an offshore wind farm is these days, but what about floating offshore wind? This derivative of wind farms is actually slightly different from other offshore wind solutions, and it brings its own benefits that traditional offshore wind doesn’t have. Take a deeper dive with us to explore how it’s different, the benefits, and how an experienced technical writing team can assist you on your journey of developing your company’s own floating offshore wind farm.
What is Floating Offshore Wind? And How Does It Differ From Traditional Solutions?
Offshore wind energy is a clean and renewable source of energy garnered by wind off the coast. While most traditional options are actually fixed to a foundation piece on the seafloor, floating offshore wind (FOW) farms do just what their name implies – float! They’re built on floating structures instead of fixed foundations. Lightweight, they can sometimes be easier to construct and install, too.
And, it’s believed that the world will see $33 billion in floating offshore wind contracts over the next 5 years. It’s certainly a method of renewable energy that will make big waves in the coming years.
How are Floating Offshore Wind Structures Installed and Constructed Compared to Traditional Solutions?
The construction of traditional offshore wind farms is a lengthy process that takes years to complete. FOW can sometimes be manufactured and installed more quickly. That’s not to say that FOW farms aren’t complicated, but due to the fact that they do not require a fixed foundation, they may be less complicated than traditional solutions.
Traditional turbines and foundations are typically manufactured, shipped, and then installed offshore, while FOW turbines can be constructed right by the water. The method for construction tends to follow this process:
- Mooring lines and anchors are designed and constructed.
- The choice of mooring depends on the depth, weather, and the type of floating platform used.
- The options include catenary, taut mooring, and tensioned leg platforms (TLP).
- Anchors selected depend on the seabed.
- Some commonly used anchors include dragging anchors, suction buckets, driven or drilled piles, and dead or gravity anchors.
- Mooring lines are produced at onshore facilities and stored until needed while anchors are assembled at port.
- Anchors and mooring lines are installed at the site.
- The choice of mooring depends on the depth, weather, and the type of floating platform used.
- The turbine is constructed.
- The turbine is pre-fabricated using steel or concrete.
- The various turbine components are built in onshore facilities.
- Floater assembly and load-out into the water occurs.
- The turbine is fitted into the floater either in pieces or as a whole.
- Installation takes place, and the fully assembled turbine is towed to the site. Depending on how far offshore the site is, it may be assembled on site and not need to be towed.
- Cables are designed, produced, and installed by an appropriate vessel.
It’s also important to note that the installation process requires careful planning and risk assessment. The different factors that come into play and can affect the strategy include:
- Location and availability of shipyards, fabrication facilities, and ports.
- Location of the wind farm.
- Lay-down and storage space.
- Water depth.
- Weight-carrying capacity of the port.
- The interface between fabrication and load-out into the water.
- Distance between the assembly port and project site.
- Weather forecasts and limits on installation vessels in relation to the weather.
What Types of Platforms Need to be Constructed for FOW Solutions?
A turbine, however, can’t just be sent out into the ocean and hoped to function! It does have to be on a floating platform, and there are several different types that can be selected. The decision about which to use depends on a few factors, including the:
- Size of the turbine.
- Depth of the harbor.
- Manufacturing facilities, cost, and available materials.
- Sea conditions.
- Seabed conditions.
- Wind speeds.
The three most commonly used types of platforms are barges, semi-submersibles, and spars.
- Similar to a ship, a barge floating platform uses a larger surface area to gain stability. They are able to move without causing stress on the entire structure.
- This platform design has a smaller surface area while maximizing volume to displace water and increase buoyancy. Connected by beams and braces, this type of platform is made up of several vertical cylinders.
- For spar platforms, the weight is placed at a lower point to improve stability in a cylinder. The larger the turbine, the larger the cylinder needs to be for this option to work.
What are the Benefits of Floating Offshore Wind Farms?
FOW farms reap many of the same benefits as a traditional offshore wind farm. While producing a clean and sustainable energy, they are able to take advantage of:
- High and consistent wind speed
- Lack of interference from land and manmade objects
- Smaller impact on the environment
- More available space
However, floating offshore wind farms also have a number of other benefits that don’t come with traditional options, such as:
There Are More Locations Available for Deployment and Increased Capability
Traditional offshore wind turbines have to be installed into a foundation, which means the depth of the water must be within specific limits. FOW turbines don’t face that hurdle – they can be placed further out into the ocean, where the depths are greater. This in turn allows for higher wind speed potential, even more consistent wind speed, and overall better energy efficiency.
In addition, they can also be installed in shallow waters, meaning they can work where the seabed conditions make traditional foundations difficult to install. It is believed that floating offshore wind turbines can be placed anywhere from 30 meters deep to 800 meters, but advancements will have to be made to make the high and low ranges of this number feasible.
They Have Even Less Impact on the Environment
Also, thanks to the lack of a required foundation, floating offshore wind solutions won’t impact the environment as much as traditional offshore wind structures. Due to the ease of manufacturing and installation and the minimal disruption it causes to the surrounding area, the marine ecosystems will be disturbed less often – even when maintenance is required.
For example, installation of a traditional offshore wind structure requires a fixed-bottom foundation. The construction of the foundation causes noise; posing a threat to marine animals. Floating structures do not require fixed-bottom foundations and therefore are less of a threat to marine life.
As an added bonus, because they can be placed out so far, they can also have less of an impact on activities such as fishing, excursions, marine transportation, and more.
They Have Less Visual Impact
Since they’re able to be installed further out to sea, fewer people – unless they’re in a boat or ship themselves – will be able to see the wind turbines. This helps keep the natural beauty of the ocean for visitors to the beach or shorelines, which helps to quell the debate that they’re “unsightly.”
They’re More Efficient Than Traditional Solutions
A major benefit that floating offshore wind turbines have over traditional solutions is the fact that they have much more efficient manufacturing, installation, and maintenance procedures. Traditional offshore wind turbines require heavy lift vessels for the foundations. Since a foundation isn’t required for floating solutions; the operation is much less weather dependent. This could potentially reduce construction delays and lower the risk for safety concerns in regards to foundation construction. However, the movement of the floating structures may actually introduce some new risks. These risks will need to be identified, documented, and mitigated in your Health and Safety Procedures. Contact your trusted Technical Writing Partner to finalize this documentation before someone gets hurt.
In addition, costs can be lower for construction and maintenance when compared to traditional offshore wind farms, especially since it can be done right at port. Cost benefits are already being seen by Equinor (40%), and they could see an additional 30% reduction in costs in their next project.
What Do You Need to Know About Construction of a FOW Farm Before You Begin?
If your organization is thinking about beginning a new floating offshore wind project, it’s important to know what the process entails. It can take several years to start a farm, floating or traditional, and requires quite a bit of legwork to get the project off the ground. From planning to installation, there’s a lot to cover.
That’s why it’s so important to have your documentation ducks in a row. Without a proper strategy for the mountains of paperwork and requirements you will face from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and other regulatory bodies, you could find yourself facing heavy delays, hefty fines, and even potentially cancellation of your entire project after you invested thousands of dollars into it.
Working with a technical writing team like Shea Writing & Training Solutions means you can take advantage of decades of experience in the energy field. Our writers know what you’re facing when it comes to deadlines, required research, forms, and data – and we’ve done it all before. We’re familiar with what BOEM, BSEE, and other agencies are looking for when you’re looking to get your floating offshore wind farm off the ground and into the ocean – and what you need to operate after you start production.
If you want to work with a technical writing team that understands the ins and outs of offshore wind farms, floating wind farms, and other methods of energy, contact us today. We’ll walk you through the process from planning to final delivery to ensure every deadline, requirement, and request for additional details from the government is met!