Numerous floating wind demonstration projects are expected to hit Norwegian waters by 2023 — and the country's well-established maritime supply chain is leading the way to jumpstart the emerging technology, writes Tor Inge Vevatne, general manager at RCG Nordic, a strategic advisory and management consulting firm based in Oslo.
Last year, Norway’s Ministry of Petroleum and Energy initiated public auctions seeking at least 4.5GW of offshore wind capacity — including 3GW using fixed-bottom foundations and 1.5GW using floating platforms. In June 2020, two areas of seabed were opened up by royal decree for development for offshore wind applications: Utsira Nord and Sørlige Nordsjø II.
Norway possesses two powerful attributes that make floating wind attractive. First, its deep oceanic trenches are a natural fit. For example, at 200-300 metres, the water depths at Utsira Nord are attractive for floating offshore wind development and will simultaneously unlock industry potential and facilitate the electrification of oil and gas fields in a region suffering from local energy shortages. Meanwhile, Sørlige Nordsjø II has water depths of 60-100 metres, allowing more cost-effective deployment of fixed-bottom foundations with today’s technology.
Second, Norway’s ability to work at sea extends as far back as the country itself. Norway's oil and gas industry — once a roaring success — has waned in recent years due to shifting energy appetites. Floating wind may provide a solid opportunity to secure a new low-carbon business model for this vast industry.
A dedicated floating wind supply chain could learn some lessons from the oil and gas supply chain. The success of the offshore oil and gas industry in Norway is often attributed to a culture of close cooperation and trust — these companies have grown together through informal ties. The oil and gas supply industry partly grew out of necessity when the shipbuilding industry was no longer competitive and new technology was required to stay competitive and justify high wages.
Back in 2009, the Marine Energy Test Centre was the location for the world’s first installed floating wind turbine. Today several new test turbines are being installed at the centre, situated north of the oil and gas capital Stavanger. TetraSpar and an Iberdrola-led consortium are testing new technologies that promise huge reductions in the levelised cost of energy (LCoE).
While there has been extremely limited activity to date in terms of multi-turbine floating wind project construction in Norway, the supply chain has started to gear up in anticipation of future requirements. Most notably, Equinor's Hywind Tampen has helped to build momentum. The developer predicts a steep decline in the cost of floating offshore wind as the technology scales up from test sites to commercial-scale.
Others have also joined the transition to floating offshore wind. Low-probability, high-impact technology, such as the entirely new Wind Catching Systems (floating multi-turbine technology), Makani (open source energy kite system) or SeaTwirl (vertical-axis turbines) concepts might seem a way off. But some companies are already being backed by wealthy sponsors. Some are transitioning into the industry by planning large structures to support the development of floating offshore wind. Others are trying to reduce floating offshore wind costs by innovation around electrical cables, new sub-structures, or cost-effective offshore installation techniques.
Clearly, Norway is in the midst of an energy reset and floating wind provides the well-established maritime supply chain a chance in that energy transition. Norway is realising that it needs to shift away from oil and gas. Floating offshore wind provides the most obvious place to start.
About the author: Tor Inge Vevatne is general manager at RCG Nordic, a strategic advisory and management consulting firm based in Oslo