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Floating Wind Turbines Could Expand Opportunities for Offshore Wind Farms

  • Floating wind turbines can be anchored in deeper water than turbines set in seabed foundations, and can benefit from stronger and more consistent winds
  • Original designs were too small to be economically viable, but larger turbines have started to make their debut
  • Floating turbines open up more markets to offshore wind and can ease some concerns about these installations

The first wind turbines developed on floating platforms were capable of withstanding surging waves and strong winds, but too small to generate enough power to be economically feasible. Now new advances in floating wind technology are supporting larger and more powerful turbines, potentially revolutionizing the offshore wind industry.

Traditional offshore wind turbines are located on seabed foundations in water with a depth of 15 to 30 meters. Floating turbines can be anchored by mooring lines in deeper water, allowing them to be sited farther offshore and in areas with stronger and more consistent winds. This in turn offers advantages such as operational efficiency and fewer concerns about the visual appeal of offshore wind farms.

A 9.5-megawatt floating turbine recently installed off Scotland is the first in a planned array of five turbines capable of producing enough energy to power 35,000 homes. Off the coast of Portugal, three 8.4-megawatt floating turbines began generating power earlier this year.

The designs for larger floating wind turbines build off developments in oil and gas platforms, such as submersible designs and tension leg platforms. While these turbines are currently more expensive to build than fixed turbines, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that they will reach cost parity by 2024. One way they can be implemented more cheaply is their ability to be assembled on shore and towed to their mooring site, as well as easier repairs since they can be brought back to the mainland as well.

Floating turbines could easily transmit power to large coastal populations near deep water, especially on the West Coast and in Hawaii. However, they have also raised some concerns among commercial fishermen who say they could interfere with their operations as well as the Department of Defense, which fears that the turbines could disrupt radar or interfere with flight training.

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