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Offshore Wind Power Could Be The Next Big Thing For Renewable Energy

Offshore wind power could contribute to reaching our climate goals by 2050.

Photo by Nicholas Doherty on Unsplash

The article was originally published in WeNaturalists, as a part of the curated section by our editors. For more similar stories head to our Curated Explore section.

The world is in urgent need of finding solutions to the escalating problem of carbon emissions. Our climate goals can only be achieved with the active participation of governments, the private sector, and experts that are committed to addressing climate change. Among the inventions being pursued to propel us in the direction of Sustainable Development Goals is offshore wind power. It is being touted as an important technology for a clean energy future.

Over the years, more focus is being shifted towards renewable energy sources like wind power and solar energy, to mitigate the impact that fossil fuels have on global warming. While wind has proven to be an effective alternative source, there is a growing need to develop better technologies to harness the energy. In this regard, floating wind energy has the potential to power households, transportation, and industrial production while reducing our carbon footprint.

Floating wind power in deep waters v/s traditional land or wind farms

Wind farms consist of a number of wind turbines. Traditional offshore wind farms are built in the range of 60–196 feet. Floating wind turbines, on the other hand, can be developed even further away from the shore and deeper in the sea, thus harnessing the strongest winds. Frank Adam, an expert on wind energy technology at the University of Rostock in Germany says, “The ocean space beyond the reach of conventional offshore turbines makes up 80 percent of the world’s maritime waters, opening the way for floating arrays.” This means, floating turbines could likely hold the key to a clean future. If 80 percent of the maritime waters are currently untouched, the potential of offshore wind energy is truly staggering.

While floating offshore wind energy is still in its early stages of development, a lot of places have installed them — from Europe to America. Among the early adopters is a private firm Equinor’s Hywind, which has set up wind turbines off the coast of Scotland. The project is fully operational and generates 10 megawatts of power. Hywind Scotland powers 20,000 homes.

It is the first wind turbine to float on the sea’s surface, and is not dug into the ocean bed.

In the race to meet the climate goals by 2050, Hywind is in the process of developing projects in Japan and other parts of Europe including Portugal and France.

The United States of America also has one operating offshore wind farm that produces 30 megawatts of electricity for Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. States like Maine, New England, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and others have also pledged to develop floating wind farms in a bid to achieve their climate change goals.

This technology is particularly enticing for places like Germany, the United Kingdom, USA and Norway where the floating turbines would be out of view of the coastal residents, who’re vying for a home with a view. In states like California as well, this technology could prove particularly useful for the same reason.

Not Without Skeptics

But this technological development is not without skeptics. Some believe the costs of floating wind turbines is too high, even though the electricity generated from it would be twice as much as near-shore turbines and thrice as much as land turbines. According to the World Economic Forum, installing and commissioning one gigawatt traditional (fixed-bottom) wind farm costs roughly £75 million per year. On the other hand, delivery of offshore wind energy in 2019 ranged between £36 and £45 per MWh of electricity. However, due to the early stages of its design and technology, the current auctions for floating wind farms are priced over twice that amount.

“It will always be cheaper to build turbines on land, and that is where the (emissions-reduction) targets are going to have to be reached. Even though the floating parks may be cheaper in some cases than fixed offshore wind power plants, and deployable over a larger sea area, it is still maritime engineering — and that makes it expensive to build, deploy, and maintain. Lifespans of the stations are short because of the corrosive nature of the marine environment,” says R. Andreas Kraemer, founder and director emeritus of the Ecologic Institute, a Berlin-based think tank.

But since its pilot project, huge strides have been made to bring the costs of off-shore wind energy down.

In the United States, the obstacle is far more worrisome. The state of Maine could become a promising leader in the offshore wind power industry due to its geographical location and other factors.

But it faces a tremendous challenge from environmentalists who believe that offshore wind turbines might affect livelihoods of the fishing communities.

Due to this, the University of Maine has not been able to conduct a geographical survey for the proposed paths of the offshore wind project’s seabed cable until it gets the go-ahead from an environmental group. The university has also pledged not to take any decisions regarding the development of the project without taking recommendations from the fishing community.

Offshore wind-generated electricity has the potential for a green future of the energy sector. Our actions and policy decisions of today will have an impact on future generations. Now, more than ever, decision-makers need to address the harsh reality of climate change and take the necessary steps to mitigate its effects.

In theory, offshore wind power can aid in meeting Europe and the world’s climate goals by 2050. It is up to the stakeholders to assess its viability and convince the critics of its promise for a renewable and clean future.

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