Floating Offshore Wind Turbines Ride High Seas, With Help From USA

Clean Power

Published on September 3rd, 2020 |
by Tina Casey

September 3rd, 2020 by  

Floating offshore wind turbines got off to a shaky start just a few years ago, and now here they are all of a sudden vaulting into the big leagues with activity all over the globe. The sudden burst of interest is partly due to the financial support of fossil fuel stakeholders like Shell and Total. Somewhat ironically, US taxpayers also deserve some of the credit, too.

floating offshore wind turbines renewable

Floating turbines are propelling the offshore wind industry into deeper waters, opening up vast new areas for clean power development (screenshot courtesy of Principle Power).

The Burning Irony Of Floating Offshore Floating Wind Turbines

Getting to that thing about US taxpayers first, the US Energy Department began pumping money into the floating offshore wind turbine R&D area back during the Obama administration. So, group hug.

One of the firms to receive support was Principle Power, which currently sports the tagline “Globalizing floating wind” on its home page.

Principle’s unique tricorner turbine platform first crossed the CleanTechnica radar all the way back in 2009, when the company received a $750,000 grant from the Energy Department to see about adding a wave energy device to the system.

In 2014, Principle was one of three companies to split a $141 million funding pot aimed at boosting the nation’s profile for cutting edge offshore wind technology. Principle’s share was in support of five 6-megawatt floating turbines for an offshore project called WindFloat Pacific, off Coos Bay in Oregon.

That project stalled out around 2018, but the Energy Department still kept a hand in the Principle pot while ramping up its overall support for floating wind, too.

Earlier this year, Principle shared in a 12-item funding round issued by the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium, which launched in 2018 with support from the Energy Department and other partners.

Last fall, the Energy Department’s cutting edge tech office ARPA-E also awarded $3.6 million to a consortium headed up by Principle. The consortium is tasked with tailoring software specifically for floating offshore wind applications, clearly taking aim at the global market.

As for the irony, that kicks in where it usually does, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. President* Trump is well known for his antipathy toward wind turbines in general and offshore turbines in particular (just ask Aberdeen, Scotland), yet his administration has shepherded in a period of explosive growth for both onshore and offshore wind. Go figure.

Global Domination For Floating Offshore Wind

Aside from a helping hand from US taxpayers, Principle Power also has some powerful private sector dollars behind it. That includes Shell, which has been among the legacy oil and gas giants pivoting into clean power. Aside from scaled-up investments in wind energy and other electrification projects, Shell is also supporting a new clean tech incubator at the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

With this kind of backing, it’s no surprise that Principle has made some big moves of late. In the latest development, Principle has joined the DeepWind Cluster, doubling down on its commitment to the offshore wind market in Scotland and the UK.

The DeepWind Cluster is a consortium of developers, supply chain companies, academics, and local governments aimed at expanding the reach of offshore wind projects into deeper waters, where fixed-platform wind turbines are impractical if not impossible to build.

“The DeepWind Cluster provides an excellent vehicle for Principle Power to further deepen its relationship with local and international stakeholders and suppliers in order to drive the floating wind industry forward in the UK, particularly in the context of the current ScotWind leasing round,” enthused Principle Power in a press release earlier this week.

“By participating in and supporting the work of the DeepWind Cluster, running in parallel with the awarding and development of the ScotWind sites, this will be a key enabler of the energy transition in the UK,” the firm added.

Ouch! It wasn’t too long ago that US oil and gas stakeholders were counting on the UK and the EU to sustain a healthy export market for US gas. Now it looks like that door is about to slam shut.

Adding to the hurt, Principle noted that the floating offshore wind sector is being helped along in part by the transfer of technology and skills from offshore oil and gas operations. That includes supply chain transfer and other services.

Group Hug For US Taxpayers, Floating Offshore Wind Edition

Principle Power currently bills itself as the “market leader in floating offshore wind technology,” with more than 100 megawatts well along in Portugal, Scotland, and France — and multiple gigawatts more in the global pipeline.

Meanwhile, though, Shell is not the only legacy fossil company to place big bets on floating offshore wind.

Earlier this week, France’s Total announced that it has plunged into a clean power partnership with Macquarie’s Green Energy Group, aimed at developing more than 2 gigawatts in floating offshore wind for South Korea.

The 2 gigawatts will be split among five projects located off Ulsan and South Jeolla Provinces, along the eastern and southern coasts of the country.

Hold on to your hats — data collection at the proposed sites has already begun, and 2023 is the goal for beginning construction on the first project of 500 megawatts.

Then there’s Equinor (formerly Statoil). Back in 2017 the company laid claim to the first ever floating offshore wind farm in operation, Scotland’s Hywind wind farm.

For That Matter, What About The US?

Considering that the US has had a considerable hand in launching the global floating offshore wind market, it’s a crying shame that the country is lagging behind when it comes to actually floating the turbines out to sea.

Or maybe it’s just politics. Back in 2014, Maine had a shot at an offshore wind project backed by Equinor/Statoil, but it got the heave-ho after Republican Governor Paul LePage reopened the bidding process.

Either way, now there is a different governor. Earlier this year Maine officials joined an Energy Department delegation to tour the Kincardine Floating Offshore Wind Farm in Scotland, which by the way is another Principle Power project.

Meanwhile, the University of Maine is behind a floating wind R&D project involving something called a VolturnUS floating wind turbine, in partnership with the firm Maine Aqua Ventus.

That particular project is in the prototype phase, but it looks like a full scale floating offshore project is already in the works.

Not to be outdone, California is on track to host a floating offshore free-for-all with the help of global investors, and clean power advocates are already toting up thousands of green jobs.

To be clear, not all of those California turbines will be floating, but most of them will, due to the deep waters that characterize the coastline.

Meanwhile, don’t cry for Oregon, which really missed out when the Coos Bay offshore project fell apart.

Last February, Reuters reported that “plummeting costs” were reviving interest in the state’s potential for floating wind. Transmission challenges and public input can present some obstacles, but “startling results” from a recent study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has raised hopes.

“According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the levelized cost of offshore wind projects could be as low as $53/MWh at a site near Coos Bay in the south, rising to $74/MWh for a site near Astoria in the north,” penned Reuters reporter Paul Day.

One more hitch: NREL based its numbers on large-capacity floating wind turbines of 15 megawatts, which currently don’t exist.

Then again, the whole floating offshore wind turbine industry did not exist just a few years ago, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter.

*Developing story.

Image (screenshot): “WindFloat” floating turbine courtesy of Principle Power. 


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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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