Focus on future offshore

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The wind industry has still to rise to the technological challenge of keeping offshore development costs down to a level which justifies going after the better wind resources at sea. "The projects must prove reliability and cost effectiveness, otherwise the development will stop," states Danish wind power consulting firm BTM Consult. But resource assessments and feasibility studies so far give every indication "that it is a market which can develop very fast." This is the overriding message of the special offshore focus of the 2000 edition of BTM's World Market Update (main story).

The future of offshore wind will depend on the projects now in planning, particularly the success of the first major development in truly offshore waters, the Danish Horns Rev project in the North Sea. The site is considered to be one of the most hostile in the world with "high wind, high waves and only limited access to the turbines during the winter period," says BTM. "The experience from the large projects may be more or less decisive for progress of subsequent projects."

Among the skills the industry must learn, aside from the development of machines with greater capacities than the current 2-2.5 MW, are further development of foundations types and smart solutions for erection of turbines. In addition, advanced remote control and preventative operation and maintenance systems must be devised and implemented. To achieve all this BTM anticipates "new alliances in the involved companies." The recently activated projects at Utgrunden in Sweden and Middelgrund off Copenhagen, Denmark, are seen by the report as the "take-off for the commercial development of offshore wind power."

By the end of 2000, total offshore wind power capacity, all of it in Europe, was 86 MW. BTM forecasts this will increase to around 2400 MW by the end of 2005. The report identifies projects in planning in European waters amounting to 3094 MW, but stresses that not all will be approved or realised on time, if at all. BTM also says that in addition, up to 2000 MW more of offshore projects could materialise by end 2005. Indeed, while companies in Britain have announced plans for up to 1500 MW of offshore wind plant to be on-line in 2004 and 2005, BTM is only allowing for 336 MW of this to be developed in that time span.

Main market drivers for the European offshore growth are the enormity of the practical resource at depths of up to 20 metres and mainly using locations 10-20 kilometres offshore; the far greater project sizes than onshore, which is "encouraging to more traditional power companies" and the reduced likelihood of conflicts of interest with other activities and the environment. The exploitable resource offshore is calculated to be in excess of 300 TWh/year. On top of the identified onshore resource of 600 TWh/year, the 900 TWh that wind can provide is equal to one-third of Europe's annual consumption today.

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