Giant floating wind turbines installed off Scottish coast, in world first

The Hywind project's massive towers are positioned into place by tug boats. [L.C. Nøttaasen/ Flick]

The world’s first floating wind farm is taking shape off the coast of Scotland, in waters normally too deep for turbine installation.

Norwegian energy giant Statoil has finished installing the last of five gigantic floating wind turbines, 25km off the coast of northeast Scotland, in a unique pilot project that hopes to address some of the problems facing wind power generation.

The Hywind project, which has been in the works for 15 years, uses new technology that allows floating wind turbines to be tethered to the seabed in deeper waters than their standard static counterparts.

Standing 175m above the waterline and weighing 11,500 tonnes each, the massive towers will be moored in waters that are about 130m deep, whereas fixed towers can only be built in depths of around 50m. Statoil claims the technology could be used in water depths of up to 700m.

Europe's wind capacity grows but concerns persist

The first half of 2017 saw 6.1 gigawatts of extra wind power capacity installed in Europe. But a lack of long-term political commitment has hit investment and market concentration remains problematic.

The new farm plans to generate enough power for 20,000 homes and the project’s leaders hope the facility will come online at the beginning of October.

Besides the added benefit of being able to build in areas otherwise unsuitable for wind farms, the floating turbines have the potential to generate more, regular power as they can be placed further out at sea where wind speeds are higher and more constant.

Hywind is coming online at a time when the price of energy from offshore wind farms has dropped 32% since 2012, exceeding UK government targets. It is only expected to get cheaper and new estimates predict that it will drop below new nuclear soon.

The untapped energy potential of the seas

Floating wind turbines and tidal lagoons are excellent examples of disregarded and underused technologies that are unquestionably advantageous for countries with large swathes of coastline, like France. EURACTIV’s partner La Tribune reports.

The project’s €200 million + costs have been subsidised by British bill-payers as part of the UK government’s Renewable Obligation Certificates.

Offshore wind has relied less and less on subsidies in recent years and in 2016, over 90% of tenders were paid for by the market, without support. That figure is expected to top 95% this year.

Statoil hopes that floating offshore turbines, which are currently very expensive to make, will be able to mirror this development.

Hywind project leader Leif Delp told the BBC that: “I think eventually we will see floating wind farms compete without subsidy – but to do that we need to get building at scale.”

Offshore floating turbines ‘could power Europe four times over’

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 new turbines are massive in scale and technologically advanced. They stand at nearly twice the height of Big Ben and their blades are 75m long. Advanced software ensures the blades help keep the towers upright by adjusting to the direction and power of wind gusts.