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Development drive in Europe set to pay off worldwide

WORLDWIDE: European manufacturers are set to lead development of larger, more powerful wind turbines designed for the swath of offshore projects planned worldwide. Asian and US suppliers are close on their heels and see Europe as a jumping board for global growth.

This prognosis is contained in a members-only report published in January by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). Suppliers have a year of solid growth in Europe to build on: 308 offshore turbines were connected to the grid in 2010, adding 883MW, a 51% increase on 2009. Ten wind farms totalling 3GW are under construction and when completed will bring Europe's installed offshore capacity to 6.2GW.

A move out to deeper and more distant European waters is driving innovation. New concepts in operations and maintenance include offshore accommodation for crew and shared spare-parts facilities at sea. Developers are looking into how to share transmission cable costs. Meanwhile, they are pushing for larger projects and there are many wind farms ranging from 500MW to 1GW in the pipeline, according to EWEA.

Likely to catch the most attention, though, is the trend towards bigger turbines able to harness more energy. EWEA points to a record number of announcements of new offshore models last year, with 29 announced by 21 makers. Forty-four new turbines have been designed by 33 manufacturers in the past two years. Today, Europe's average offshore turbine is 3.2MW, but a flurry of prototypes exceeding 5MW are in the works, says EWEA (see chart).

With a few European Union member states relying on offshore wind to meet their 2020 renewables targets, more than 140GW of offshore capacity is in the pipeline. The UK makes up the largest portion, with 50GW either online, under construction, consented or planned.

Developers are showing increased interest in floating turbines allowing them to tap wind in deeper waters. Of 11 deep-water sites in Norway, four will use floating installations, says EWEA, which adds that Norwegian offshore specialist Sway is working towards a 5MW floating model in 2013 and a 10MW unit in 2015-17. Norwegian energy company Statoil, which is testing a floating 2.3MW Siemens turbine, aims to explore opportunities for floating turbines in Scotland and the US state of Maine.

Lessons learned in Europe will give wind firms an edge in deep offshore wind markets expected to take off in China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. That may partly explain the keen interest by Asian manufacturers in European offshore wind. Examples include XEMC Darwind unveiling a 5MW prototype and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry's collaboration with Scottish and Southern Energy. South Korean industrial giants are also making their debut with eyes on an estimated 5GW market back at home, says EWEA. Daewoo may manufacture wind technology from its Romanian shipyard, while Samsung Heavy Industries is seeking a partnership in Europe, the report says.

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