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June 8, 2016

A stretch of water off the coast of Scotland will house the world’s first floating wind farm come 2017 after the developer – Norwegian energy company Statoil – was granted the seabed lease last month.

Five 6MW floating turbines will bob on the water 15 miles from shore with the base of each turbine tethered, rather than rigidly anchored as traditional offshore turbines are, to the seabed which belongs to The Crown Estate.

This new technology is potentially cheaper to install and easier to maintain than regular offshore wind farms, says Dominic Szanto, director, energy and infrastructure at JLL. And with the largest offshore turbines being more than double the size of those onshore, the technology could help governments worldwide meet their renewable energy targets.

“Floating wind turbines are potentially very effective because, despite the foundations being more expensive to manufacture, they are relatively cheap to install – you just tow them into position and anchor them. Plus, they naturally move with the waves, which is actually beneficial as it dampens down vibrations and is better for the equipment.

“Offshore wind is very much an EU offering right now, but has massive potential overseas.”

Heading for deep waters
The floating turbines are designed to suit water depths of more than 100 metres, which means they’re likely to prove popular in markets such as the US and Japan.

Szanto explains: “I personally don’t see floating turbines as being core in the UK market because we have a lot of coastline with relatively shallow water depths, however, it has massive potential in other countries. In particular the US is starting to develop offshore wind with some momentum.”

Just this week, New York State announced plans to auction a 33,000-hectare area for a 700MW offshore wind project. It’s part of the state’s large-scale  program to meet a mandate of running on 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.  New York City has plans to be 100 per cent powered by renewable energy by the same time.

“The USA is hoping to repeat the success of the Crown Estate in the UK,” says Szanto. In 2009, the Royal Family’s real estate firm licenced eight zones around the British Isles to companies or consortiums, including deals Szanto negotiated for Forewind and RWE.

While the East Coast of America may be leading the charge in US offshore wind, the West Coast could follow suit.

“The key states along the West Coast, California in particular, have similar potential for green energy and have deep water close to shore,” says Szanto. “So the potential for floating turbines is even greater.”

Until now, the US has been slow to adopt regular offshore wind farms because of the costs involved. Projects haven’t benefited from the same levels of support that are available in the UK. But costs are now moving in line with where onshore wind was a few years ago, and forecast to drop further.

As more states face pressure to commit to renewable energy projects, European companies will benefit.

“Two firms, principally Siemens and Vestas, dominate the production off offshore wind technology globally,” says Szanto. “And the manpower behind much of the maintenance and installation of the turbines is UK-based.”

Bad news from Brexit?
However, if Britain votes to leave the EU it could damage the UK’s position in the global rollout of this technology.

Szanto says: “Most projects have a completely EU-centric supply chain and the UK is very much a player in this. However, if Britain votes to leave the EU it could hamper the abilities of a Danish company to exploit the UK’s human capital as this technology gets delivered worldwide.”

It’s no doubt something investors will consider as they decide where, and in which projects, to invest. New figures show the amount of money invested globally in renewable projects hit an all-time high last year of $286 billion. Overall capacity also reached a peak with 147 GW of new renewable energy projects coming online in 2015; that’s enough to power Africa.

Dominic Szanto
Director, energy and infrastructure

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