Floating turbines could aid shipyards

The emergence of floating turbines for deployment in deep water could also bring about a revival of shipyards in Europe and North America.

Speaking at a Windpower Monthly offshore event in Bremen, Germany, last month, Charlie Nordstrom, naval architect at maritime designers Glosten Associates, said there were many parts of the world where coastal waters became deep very quickly, making the use of fixed foundations for wind turbines difficult and expensive.

"There is a 50GW market for offshore wind out there, but much of it is in deep water, though not in many cases far offshore," said Nordstrom. "Most of the turbine and foundation assembly for floating wind farms can be undertaken onshore and this presents a great opportunity for shipyards to diversify," he added.

Nordstrom said the emergence of floating technology would not necessarily cannibalise the existing supply chain for offshore wind, especially as new centres for assembly on land were developed. He cited the Harland and Wolf shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as an example of a facility that could now play an important role in supporting floating offshore wind.

The Mediterranean Sea is seen as having potential for floating turbines as in many places the sea becomes deep quickly. Last month Neal Bastick, CEO at Dutch floating platform technology firm Blue H, which is developing floating deep-water foundation technology, said his company was working on a platform for a 5-7MW floating turbine to be deployed on the site of the proposed 90MW Tricase wind farm off the coast of Brindisi, southern Italy, as early as 2013.

However, optimism about the future of floating turbines and the knock-on benefits for the supply chain and shipyards could be tempered by a recent report by global strategic adviser Make Consulting.

In the report, Offshore Wind Power 2011, Make argues that although offshore wind is flourishing in many markets, a further worsening of the economic climate and a consequent lack of government support makes offshore wind development challenging in many southern European and North American markets. These are the kind of markets where floating foundation technology would be expected to be deployed.