The UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) has also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the US energy ministry to work together on floating wind technologies.
The Crown Estate, which owns and manages the UK seabed, is involved in an ongoing consultation with industry players about the sites. A study will be published in June that seeks to find solutions to the question of bringing down the costs for offshore wind development, and further details of the site proposals and the potential for supply-chain development will be published in September.
The UK currently has 1.8GW installed offshore capacity, according to Windpower Intelligence, and the government hopes this will have reached 18GW by 2020 when its Round 3 of development is to be completed. All of these sites are in shallow waters of less than 60 metres.
Decc's interest in floating technology is based on the potential for deep water sites - with depth of between 60 to 100 metres - on the west coast of the UK - post 2020. As yet, no firm plans are available from Decc on MoU funding or projects.
The current cost per megawatt hour for UK offshore projects is estimated at £150/MWh (EUR184/MWh) and the sector is under pressure to reduce that to £100/MWh.
"Some sites being planned for development under the UK's Round 3 of offshore development are so far from shore that maintenance, transmission and cabling will be very expensive," said Andrew Scott, wind programme manager of the Energy and Technology Institute (ETI), a public-private sustainable-energy research and development body that includes Decc on its board along with developers EDF and E.on.
According to Scott, floating turbines only become more economically viable than fixed foundations in water depths of 60-100 metres and, given the timescales involved, the technology would probably only be useful in post-2020 development. ETI is developing its own £25 million floating-turbine demonstration project, which should be in the water by 2015, Scott said.
Echoing Decc, Scott said the real potential to cut costs lies in deep-water near-shore sites - using floating wind turbines - where the wind speeds are higher meaning more power and more revenue. "We wouldn't be involved in this if we didn't think we could do substantially better than £100/MWh," he added. "There is absolutely massive potential to the west of the UK and in Scottish waters."
Michal Forland, CEO of Sway, a Norwegian renewable-energy firm with its own floating technology project, also thinks the west of the UK has excellent wind conditions. "But the UK emphasis is still for shallow water projects, even though there is some hesitation in developing them," he added. "The west of the UK is much better than the areas currently planned for."
The Crown Estate declined to comment on which companies are involved in the consultation process or where potential deep-water development might be located.
Developer Iberdrola dropped plans to use floating turbines last year for a project in the German Baltic Sea but is still committed to developing floating technology. Norwegian energy company Statoil is developing its own Hywind floating project, but spokesman Morten Eek said the firm would not pursue the Crown Estate proposal.