Buoyant wind farms situated in deep seas could employ 318,000 people and provide 145 million households with electricity by 2030, says a new report by the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

The paper, Deep Water, argues that new floating turbine designs are cost-competitive with fixed-bottom designs in deep seas, and could be market-ready by 2017 – with massive electricity-generating potential.

“The energy produced from turbines in deep waters in the North Sea alone could meet the EU’s electricity consumption four times over,” the report says.

Europe’s offshore wind sector currently employs 58,000 people and has an installed capacity of just 5GW. Just two full-scale offshore wind turbines on floating substructures were operating – one in the North Sea and one in the Atlantic.

But the sector is growing quickly and could account for 40GW of energy by 2020, meeting 4% of Europe’s electricity demand. Four experimental floating structures are in a test phase in Europe – and three others are being tested around the world.

"To allow this sector to realise its potential and deliver major benefits for Europe, a clear and stable legislative framework for after 2020 - based on a binding 2030 renewable energy target - is vital", said Jacopo Moccia, head of policy analysis at EWEA.

“This must be backed by an industrial strategy for offshore wind including support for R&D,” he added.

The study also highlights the need for simplified licencing and permitting procedures and the deployment of new turbine designs which can operate in ocean depths greater than 50 metres. In 2012, the average water depth of offshore wind turbines was 22 metres.

In the period until 2020, most offshore developments are expected to take place in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.

Britain is considered one of the world’s best sites for offshore turbines and recently opened the planet’s biggest offshore windfarm in the Thames estuary.

UK misses renewable energy target

The paper was released as the UK’s Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) confirmed that the UK had missed its indicative renewable energy target for 2011-2012 by 0.1%.

By 30 June, 2013, the UK will need to provide Brussels with plans showing how it intends to get ‘back on track’ for meeting its 2020 target of providing 20% of its energy from renewable sources.

British studies suggest that the UK’s government has endangered the future of its offshore wind industry by doing too little to attract turbine manufacturers.

DECC recently lowered its expected offshore wind energy generation capacity for 2020 from 18GW to 11.5GW, making it unlikely that the UK will meet its emissions reductions targets, according to the Committee on Climate Change, which advises the government.

Eurostat data show that the UK remains 25th out of the 28 EU nations according to the share of renewables in its heating system, power supply and transport fuels.

Although London’s 2020 target is one of the lowest in the EU (15%), it requires one of the highest annual growth rates (16.5% year-on-year to 2020) because of its low starting point.