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Floating wind farms: the future of business electricity?

Wind power plays an increasingly important role in UK business electricity. Floating wind could be the future but what is it and how does it affect you?

Offshore wind power is now relatively well known. But these turbines have so far been anchored to the sea bed (so-called ‘fixed bottom’ turbines), much in the same way that onshore wind farms are built atop foundations.

While effective in much of Europe’s shallow water geography, areas with deeper water have hitherto been unsuitable for the renewable electricity business: traditional offshore wind farms are only viable in waters 50 metres deep or less.

Now, however, developments in floating turbine technology could revolutionise wind power. As Maurice Jenkens, International Business Development Director at HEXICON AB, recently highlighted on LinkedIn, floating wind energy offers several advantages: “[F]loating energy solutions can be scaled up virtually unlimited near consumer centres where energy is mostly needed; at the world’s coastlines. It is a solution to a set of growing global needs.”

Offshore wind farms

Densely populated countries like Japan are running out of space for solar parks, large onshore wind areas and shallow waters for offshore wind production, Jenkins argues.

Other advantages include installation times of as little as one day and installation costs that are up to 90% cheaper than a standard offshore project.

Another benefit of floating wind is that better and steadier winds are found further out at sea, both resulting in more energy generated and ‘complementary’ electricity produced to onshore wind farms, potentially reducing the need for costly storage solutions. In any case, farms can be situated where wind speeds are highest, helping to maximise output.

So, with so many advantages, why is floating wind not already massively popular? As usual, it comes down to cost.

Cheapest business electricity

Citing the Societal costs of Electricity (SCOE) by Siemens, Jenkens claims that the net total effects (including health and environmental effects and lasting job creation) to society of offshore wind energy simply outweigh that competitors like oil, coal and gas. SCOE takes among others into account, true costs of energy.

Unfortunately, investors and Governments tend to prioritise upfront costs, which for floating wind are significantly higher.

As Edie has pointed out, floating wind platform foundations require enormous amounts of steel and expensive materials, making the current cost per mWh around €140 for floating wind, compared to around €110 for standard offshore wind.

But Jenkens, speaking to Edie, claimed that the removal of R&D costs would make floating wind far more competitive.

A Carbon Trust report has estimated that floating wind power could reach cost parity with fixed-bottom during the 2020s (although this would be dependent on “adequate support” provided by the Government).

This increasing viability is because of the steadily falling costs for wind, solar and battery storage, which Jenkens put at 50% on a 5-year percentage rate. Bigger turbines and larger parks could also see floating wind power costs fall in a similar way to traditional wind generation.

Scottish wind power

The Scottish Government has already opened a tender to build small scale floating wind farms: the Carbon Trust report was actually commissioned by the Scottish Government and found that floating wind is particularly well suited to Scotland. A combination of high wind speeds, abundant near-shore deep water sites, and the ability to leverage existing infrastructure and supply chain capabilities from the offshore oil and gas industry create the requisite conditions to position Scotland as a world leader in floating wind technology.

While business electricity suppliers could see a boost from floating wind generation, the effects will take years – if not decades – to be felt. Finding the best electricity prices for business does not have to be onerous: just 20 minutes is enough for us to quickly compare business electricity suppliers and switch you to a new deal (with us taking care of the paperwork). Give us a call on 0330 0100 251 (or request a call back using our form).

Find out more about business electricity at our dedicated page.

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