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Why the focus on floating wind may stunt offshore growth in Asia Pacific

Deep sea turbine substructures are poised to revolutionise the offshore wind sector, according to Ian Hatton, Chairman, Enterprize Energy.

According to Wood Mackenzie, floating wind is the ‘next frontier’ in Asia Pacific (APAC) that will unlock $60 billion of investment, and though there’s little doubt that the technology will create investment opportunities, floating wind isn’t always the best option for deep water development in APAC. In fact, a singular focus on floating wind could stunt the growth of offshore wind in the region.

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As such, innovative buoyant or fixed foundation technologies must not be left out of the conversation.

Floating wind offers many benefits to the development of offshore wind, most notably the accessibility of deeper water depths. According to the Carbon Trust, by developing offshore wind projects at depths of over 60 meters, European offshore wind capacity could reach 4TW, and more than 2TW in the US. Additionally, due to the bathymetry of a tectonically active plate, areas available to conventional fixed-bottom foundations are less extensive than needed for widescale development. Therefore, innovative foundation solutions are required to expand access to the areas of greatest wind resource.

Yet floating wind isn’t the only way to unlock deep-water capacity. As I will discuss below, the technology isn’t always a great fit. Although floating wind will certainly become an essential piece in the future of offshore wind, it simply can’t be the sole solution to the roll out of APAC offshore wind today.

The alternative

There are tried and tested innovations from the oil and gas sector such as the articulated wind column (AWC), an initiative from ODE and AWC Ltd that is ideal for deep water development – but they’ve been overlooked.

The articulated loading column is a proven technology in O&G, currently deployed at 14 O&G sites worldwide, so ODE and AWC Ltd’s adaptation offers a solid alternative for constructing offshore wind farms far from shore.

AWC’s are buoyant, gravity-based structures, which can be effective across a wide range of water depths but really come into their own in deeper waters up to 200m in depth. They have a compact footprint, facilitating more turbines in smaller areas with more flexible placement than floating wind. And most importantly, they’re considerably cheaper and easier to manufacture.

Benefits of AWC

Another benefit of AWC’s is that it lends itself to construction in non-specialist ports. Floating wind, on the other hand, would require almost starting from scratch as the technology could require new construction machinery and logistics. Furthermore, AWC’s can be constructed from materials like concrete, which means that their foundations can be manufactured faster, cheaper and closer to the offshore project site ” driving local economic benefits.

Cultural considerations

To see the offshore wind sector thrive in this region, developing local supply chains and promoting increased localisation will be key. Achieving this would not only benefit the economy involved, but it’s logistically easier than shipping materials across the world. AWC’s allow the developers to commission foundations that will be built in the country that is actually using them.

Developing local supply chains now around more conventional foundation structures would actually benefit the development of floating wind in the long run by facilitating sector maturity, putting those regions in a better place from which to diversify technologies in future.

AWC could also minimise the disruption that could be caused to local fishing industries that are key to the immediate wealth and culture of much of the population. The anchor points required for floating wind are extensive and are therefore a potential source of conflict with fishing patterns and areas. However, with structures like AWC’s the foundations are less disruptive to those industries as they require no supplementary mooring system.

Conclusions

This is not to say that floating wind turbines don’t have their place. Yet in South East Asia and many other regions in APAC, where the offshore wind industry is not yet established, the use of AWC could stimulate the industry by providing a more easily constructable deep-water foundation which is already proven in the region by the oil and gas industry. The deployment of AWC over other innovative floating methods could reduce unnecessary costs and challenges for a sector that requires rapid development.

Offshore wind developers must consider using tried and tested technologies to begin with in order to develop local supply chains and expertise, reduce costs, and lay the groundwork for the development of diverse energy generation technologies in the future. Although floating structures may unlock considerable investment in the future, it will benefit the longevity of the sector to use easily applicable and reliable technologies today.

Author: Ian Hatton, Chairman, Enterprize Energy

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