With recent increased investments in wind power, the development of floating offshore wind farms presents the potential to access areas previously unavailable. On floating offshore wind farms, a wind turbine is attached to a floating structure which is tethered to the sea floor, as opposed to the turbine being a fixed foundation in the sea. This allows the wind turbines to operate in deeper waters.
There are four main floating foundation designs leading the market today. The spar buoy foundation design, which relies on gravity for stability, has a large ballast-stabilized spar. This design is utilized at the world’s first commercial floating wind farm, Hywind Scotland.
Another favored design is the semi-submersible platform, which relies on buoyancy for stability. A 2019 analysis of upcoming projects in the floating offshore wind market showed a vast majority of floating offshore wind farms will be installed on semi-submersible platforms. The two other main designs are the tension-leg platform, which relies on a taut mooring system to provide stability, and a square barge with a damping pool to maintain stability. The type of platform used matters for two reasons. First, developers want a design that is inexpensive to build. Second, the platform’s design determines the depths that can be accessed.
The floating offshore wind market has several advantages, whether it is the availability of untapped energy resources or the additional opportunities for energy companies to participate in the renewable energy sector. The ability to operate in deeper waters allows floating turbines to potentially access the approximately sixty percent of available offshore wind resource in the U.S. that cannot be accessed by fixed-bottom foundation turbines. Also, aside from giving Europe’s oil majors another avenue to help strengthen their position in the renewables sector, floating offshore wind offers an opportunity for less established energy companies and countries to participate in the emerging renewable energy market.
Equinor was the first company to build a commercial-scale floating wind farm, Hywind Scotland, and recently began construction on another floating wind farm in Norway, Hywind Tampen, which is said to be the world’s largest floating offshore wind farm. Royal Dutch Shell increased its presence in the area through its acquisition of floating wind specialist, Eolfi, in November 2019. Total entered the market in March of this year, and earlier this month procured a twenty percent stake in the Mediterranean Eolmed project. Through these types of acquisitions, oil majors are able to enter and compete in this emerging market.
With many floating offshore wind projects in development, we will likely see more oil majors investing in the area as they seek different ways to reduce their carbon emissions.