Offshore wind technology gaining momentum in UK

The UK’s renewable energy sector is well placed to take advantage of the expected boom in floating offshore wind technology, a new study suggests.

Researchers from the University of Plymouth have recently highlighted that huge advances in platform technology have taken place over the past two decades.

This has led to a shift from early designs, which reflected those used in the oil and gas industry and focused predominantly on platform stability, to more specialised designs introduced in significant part driven by the need to reduce costs.

These bespoke designs are being developed alongside a more holistic view of the platform’s place within the local environment, including aspects such as local economy, infrastructure, and particularly impact on the marine environment.

For the sector’s potential to be fully maximised, however, researchers say there are still a number of challenges that need to be overcome in terms of design, cost, infrastructure and maintenance.

They also add that greater consideration of – and investment in – a UK-based supply chain will be essential to ensure the UK’s economy as a whole benefits from the floating offshore wind revolution.

Between now and 2050, the global floating offshore wind sector will need to grow in installed capacity by a staggering 2000%, from the current 121MW to around 264GW.

To try and meet that demand, most platforms currently being tested at sea fit into four categories – spars, which have a single vertical cylinder with ballast at the bottom; semi-submersibles, consisting of three to five vertical cylinders connected together, with the turbine in the centre or above one of the columns; tension leg platforms, which rely on taut mooring lines connected to the seabed for stability; and barges, which are wide, shallow platforms.

Platforms such as this are expected to form the basis of the sector’s growth in UK waters, which will be centred around Scotland and the Celtic Sea, with the Crown Estate scheduled to open its next leasing round for the latter in 2023.