Market Insights

Floating Offshore Wind Farms Show Growing Potential

October 05, 2023 by John Nieman

A new study thoroughly examining floating offshore wind turbine design benefits and drawbacks will help engineers looking to improve offshore wind turbine technology. 

Important advancements in wind turbine technology over the last 30 years have led to significant increases in the amount of electricity generated from wind. In the United States, t 10.2 percent of total utility electricity in 2022 was created by wind turbines, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

 

Offshore wind turbines.

Offshore wind turbines. Image used courtesy of North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality

 

What many do not realize is that the greatest potential for wind turbine technology lies offshore.  

Researchers from the University of Plymouth’s Centre for Decarbonisation and Offshore Renewable Energy (C-DORE) recently detailed emerging concerns, outlined design features for floating offshore wind turbines (FOWT), and analyzed the benefits and drawbacks of currently-used design traits. 

As FOWT infrastructure grows, this study can provide a critical overview for engineers hoping to make design changes and improve turbine performance. 

 

Fixed vs. Floating Designs

Wind resources are most abundant at sea, where depths are too great for fixed offshore wind turbines. Constructing wind turbine platforms secured to the seafloor at such depths is problematic because it is not cost effective and, depending on locality, may not even be feasible.

The solution is to design a floating platform for the wind turbine. 

Floating offshore wind turbines can be implemented at various depths and in many ocean environments, and this versatility will help them capture the power that wind generates over areas of water that have been too difficult to develop. 

 

Fixed and floating offshore designs.

Fixed and floating offshore designs. Image used courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory

 

Early designs for wind turbine platforms were patterned after those used in the oil and gas industries, and their primary focus was stability. Engineers have been realizing, however, that more idiosyncratic designs that fit unique ocean habitats are not only safer but more cost effective. 

In the next 25 years, rapid development in this sector of renewable energy will likely take place, and researchers have estimated that installed capacity will have to expand by 2000 percent in order to meet infrastructure needs for FOWT demand.

Right now, four categories of design are most common, and engineers are creating and testing prototypes as well as considering unique changes to suit the various needs of particular ocean environments. These four categories are defined by how each structure achieves stability: some models use gravitational forces to achieve stability, others rely on moorings, and the typical barge design uses waterplane stabilization.   

Regardless of individual specs, the goal is always the same. Limiting the pitch motion will boost the performance of the wind turbine, and so each design is tailored to minimize motion which can be challenging in certain waters due to currents and weather patterns.  

 

Impact of the World’s Largest Offshore Wind Farm

Even while the FOWT sector is still growing, there was a recent milestone that shows just how impactful this technology can be. As of September 2023, the Dogger Bank Wind Farm, located near the northeast coast of England, has installed the first two GE Renewable Energy 13 MW Haliade-X turbines. The size and scope of both the turbines and the farm as a whole are impressive. The turbine size is on par with skyscrapers, and the farm will be capable of producing enough clean energy to power 6 million homes every year. 

Dogger Bank is paving the path toward clean energy and showing how impactful FOWTs can be. This technology and infrastructure are still in the development phase, but it is already clear that offshore wind farms will play a pivotal role in our clean energy future.