Tech Insights

Offshore Floating Wind Farms Provide Lifelong Environmental Benefits

August 07, 2023 by Zac Amos

An Italian study dug into the environmental advantages of floating wind farms throughout their life cycles. Here are the eye-opening takeaways, which provide insight into future development and implementation.

Offshore wind farms provide perpetual clean energy once they’re established. However, they deliver additional advantages even before installation. They are changing industries like steel production and strategies in logistics and procurement. The influence of offshore wind farm manufacturing manifests in every corner of the life cycle, even when they’re eventually dismantled. 


Offshore wind turbines

Offshore wind turbines. Image used courtesy of Unsplash


A study was conducted in Italy to dig into the environmental advantages of floating wind farms throughout their life cycles, resulting in eye-opening insights. Here are the key takeaways, which provide insight into future development and implementation.


A Revolutionary Study of Floating Offshore Wind Turbines

A study titled “Life cycle assessment of a floating offshore wind farm in Italy” by researchers from Politecnico di Milano examines this further. The research explores the impact of 190 potential turbines and 14.7 MW of power from beginning to end. It validates emotional and governmental buy-in for the technology and pushes Italy closer to its climate goals if the project succeeds. Offshore power eliminates politicism from the conversation, particularly regarding land-use debates and how wind farms are visual or cause sound pollution. 

Judging the efficiency of green infrastructure is straightforward when evaluating energy efficiency and output. An offshore wind farm of this scale should pay itself off within several years of operation, so how did prior steps encourage this return on investment? The industry must look at the whole picture for genuine sustainable development. 

There needs to be more research. The study is not all-encompassing, as the researchers acknowledge future studies should seek greater specificity for better modeling. Executing more research on active offshore wind farms instead of hypothetical concepts still in the authorization stages is essential. Fortunately, offshore wind farms illuminate a positive trajectory based on accessible information.

The wind turbines were up against several categories for impact assessment, taken from the Environmental Product Declarations mode. They included:

  • Global warming potential
  • Acidification potential
  • Abiotic depletion
  • Raw materials 
  • Eutrophication potential
  • Ozone depletion potential

A life-cycle analysis of off- and on-shore wind turbines would vary distinctly, and offshore might remove several of onshore’s most significant issues. Researchers’ discoveries provide windows into how the sector can innovate.


The Steel Opportunity

Steel is the backbone of offshore grid-connected turbines because it forges cables, floating devices, and generators for charging. The study reveals that raw material supplies were the most prominent impact of offshore wind. Parts, like rotors, get larger as turbines require higher capacity. Governmental investments and global pushes for wind power that expedite production inadvertently contribute to excess mining and emissions. Efforts can make abiotic depletion an issue, but the culmination of other offshore advantages quickly counteracts the impact.

Bottom-fixed designs that force installers to tether turbines deep in the ocean are transitioning to a format that relies less on steel. It is a heavy material to transport and strenuous to assemble. Procuring steel is unsustainable, rendering other parts of the life cycle less worrisome. 


Wind turbines in the Baltic Sea

Wind turbines in the Baltic Sea. Image used courtesy of Unsplash

Upstream steel production is energy-intensive. Traditional methods, including blast, basic oxygen, and electric arc furnaces, damage offshore wind. Improving them would dramatically shift offshore wind’s carbon footprint. The greenhouse gas emissions from steel alone could tarnish reputations, but it’s possible to fix it with innovations in bioenergy or repurposing steel scraps.

Research says steel is the main detriment to offshore wind’s climate impact. It’s vital to acknowledge, but its benefits still reveal how crucial it is for decarbonizing global power and finding opportunities for additional operational enhancements and process discovery.


Other Prominent Findings

Related studies explored eutrophication potential as another critical consideration. It added a 20% change because excess copper from cables alters the surrounding waters’ nutrient density. Companies must recycle copper to further increase offshore wind’s environmental advantages to prevent aquatic life from being stripped of oxygen.

The climate change impact on offshore wind is reduced because of increased efficiency. Reliable tides and water patterns create more consistent energy generation. It is where offshore wind shines. 

There is a reduction in global warming potential overall compared to onshore options and reflecting on other impact factors, despite metrics like steel and eutrophication. Every gigawatt-hour the offshore turbines produce reinforces how much more stable it is as energy generation compared to fossil fuels.


Seeing Potential in Offshore Wind Farms

New research highlights the potential of offshore wind in the future. Decarbonizing steel production and making better use of materials will make floating wind generation one of the most carbon-friendly options, even for noncoastal regions.

More importantly, the studies accentuate a desperate need for continued research and development. More data is needed to catalyze worldwide standardization or sweeping changes for offshore wind power. Publicizing studies like this is the first step in raising awareness for industry professionals who must see the figures to incite progress. Engineering experts can pick up where the Italian study left off using diverse methodologies on live sites to measure wind’s positive mark on energy.