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What is missing for floating wind to flourish?

Floating offshore wind enjoyed much more visibility and a larger slice of the action than it usually does at WindEurope's Offshore 2019 exhibition and conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Floating panel: Rolf Kragelund, Albert Winnemuller, Leif Delp, Laurent Schneider-Maunoury, Patrick Lefebvre and Knut Erik Steen (left to right)
Floating panel: Rolf Kragelund, Albert Winnemuller, Leif Delp, Laurent Schneider-Maunoury, Patrick Lefebvre and Knut Erik Steen (left to right)

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But beyond the warm words, what will it take for this technology to make the transition to large-scale deployment?

A handful of demonstration projects are active around Europe, and more are planned. But industry experts agree that the sector will not progress very quickly unless it gets support from governments through technology-specific tenders, as it is not yet in a position to compete head-on with other renewables.

At a conference session on floating offshore wind’s prospects and markets, Patrick Lefebvre, chief commercial officer of Principle Power, the technology provider behind the WindFloat floating foundation, said he anticipates a global pipeline of 30GW by 2030 in countries such as Japan, South Korea and the US, as well as Europe.

Realistically, about a third of that will come through, he added.

Supply chain

A dedicated supply chain that can deliver the construction, cabling and mooring systems for floating projects is going to present a major difficulty, according to Leif Delp, head of floating offshore wind technology at Norwegian utility Equinor.

For such a supply chain to develop, "we need to be able to show the market that this is the future", he said.

Most observers agree the more than 60 types of floaters currently in existence will have to be whittled down to ten or fewer for the sector to become commercially viable.

As well as supply chains for equipment and human resources, ports also need to scale up to deliver large-scale floating offshore wind.

"Infrastructure investment could be a showstopper for this market," said Laurent Schneider-Maunoury, CEO of Naval Energies, a French contractor in the marine renewable energy space.

Once the shallow-water marine sites that are suitable for fixed-based offshore wind developments are exhausted, the urge to use floaters will become unstoppable.

"By 2050, I expect floating to dominate new offshore-wind installations," said Principle Power’s Lefebvre. But he sees a big gulf between the vision and the action needed to make it reality.

Call for technology-specific tenders

A big push for the technology could come from national tenders for offshore-wind capacity, along the lines of the 1GW plans announced recently by the French government.

But with the cost of fixed-base offshore wind having dropped dramatically in recent years, support for a new, still expensive technology such as floating needs technology-specific tenders.

"[They] need to happen before providers can decide to invest and build the supply chain that needs to be built," argued Schneider-Maunoury.

Rolf Kragelund, offshore wind director at global consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said that floating is in a "catch-22" situation where support is needed to enable the cost reductions associated with at-scale industries, but growth would not happen without support.

On a positive note, he observed that the lack of an established supply chain means the sector has a better chance than others to work with local content.

"Local content means both manufacturing and local resources," Schneider-Maunoury pointed out. This provides a unique opportunity for countries to get behind the concept of financial support for this fledgling technology.

Overall, while the outlook for floating offshore is strong, there is no getting away from the fact that without support mechanisms it will be impossible to enable a rapid transition "from demonstration to cost-competitive at-scale projects", concluded Albert Winnemuller, head of technical sales readiness and floating at MHI Vestas.

It is not just about turbines and foundations, he said. "Lots of other elements need to come together," he added. "As long as the market visibility is there, the solutions will be developed."

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