Floating Wind Turbines on the High Seas

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Norwegian oil and gas giant Statoil positions 6-megawatt turbines off the coast of Scotland for the world’s first floating wind farm. Photo: Roar Lindefjeld/Woldcam/Statoil

The world’s first wind farm employing floating turbines is taking shape 25 kilometers off the Scottish coast and expected to begin operating by the end of this year. New research by atmospheric scientists at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. suggests that the ultimate destination for such floating wind farms could be hundreds of kilometers out in the open ocean. The simulations, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show that winds over the open ocean have far greater staying power than those over land.

Wind power generation is obviously contingent on how fast and how often winds blow. But only over the past decade have scientists and wind farm developers recognized that the winds measured prior to erecting turbines may not endure. For one thing, dense arrays of wind turbines act as a drag on the wind, depleting local or even regional wind resources. Continue reading

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Floating Wind Turbines Headed for Offshore Farms

PrinciplePower.WindFloatFloating wind power is no longer science fiction. Promising results from five test platforms operating worldwide—including three in Japan—are turning into project plans for a first generation of floating wind farms. Industry analyst Annette Bossler, who runs Bremen, Maine-based Main(e) International Consulting, predicts that the number of test platforms will nearly double over the next two years and that commercialization is within site. “By 2018-2019 you will start to see the first really large-scale commercial use of floating platforms,” predicts Bossler.

Putting wind turbines on offshore platforms akin to those developed for the petroleum industry provides a means of exploiting high-quality offshore winds—which are stronger and more consistent than onshore winds—in waters too deep for today’s bottom-fixed foundations. Continue reading

A Steadier Platform for Floating Wind Power

The Norwegian North Sea site for StatoilHydro\'s first floating wind turbineThose of you who mistook CN’s April 2 post Wind Power That Floats for a belated April Fool’s joke will want to consider last month’s project launch by Norway’s StatoilHydro. The North Sea oil and gas giant has teamed up with engineering conglomerate Siemens AG to anchor a full-scale commercial wind turbine in over 200 meters of water off Norway’s southwest tip.

StatoilHydro and Siemens plan to take a different tack from the startups profiled in the April 2 piece. As I show today in Wind Power Moves into Deep Waters at TechnologyReview.com, these big players are selecting components conservatively to prove that the concept of floating wind turbines is workable rather than trying to engineer the optimal floating system from the start. 

Consider the turbine itself. Tech startup Sway is designing a downwind rotor, and rival Blue H Group is building a two-bladed rotor with hinged blades. Both designs could reduce the forces on the machine and thus reduce the weight of the entire system–including the super-pricey counterweights required to anchor giant buoys to the seabed. But both designs were also left behind as the commercial wind power industry went mainstream in the mid to late 1990s and coalesced around the less elegant but more durable upwind three-bladed rotors now universally used on utility scale turbines.

StatoilHydro and Siemens will use a well-tested Siemens three-blade upwind machine, thus simplifying both their design process and their demonstration of the floating wind concept. As StatoilHydro’s vp for wind power notes in my story, if the demo fails in any way they’ll know that it’s not the turbine itself that’s to blame.

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