the maker of For decades, wind turbines have struggled to harness one of nature’s most powerful forces. They’ve moved from onshore to offshore locations, building larger rotors with huge blades, each now longer than a row of 10 London buses. They stack these rotors on top of dizzying towers, constantly reaching new, windy heights.
To capture the most reliable high-energy winds, engineers are now going further into the ocean, into deeper waters known to blow especially strong winds. For offshore wind turbines – whose foundations with a fixed bottom can only extend down to 60 meters – these areas have long been off-limits. But a new generation of floating machines looks set to change that.
The potential bounty is huge. According to industry body Wind Europe, 80% of offshore wind resources in European waters are located too deep to make today’s fixed-bottom turbines an economically sensible option. Deep water also hinders the installation of large offshore wind farms off the U.S. West Coast, for example.
Floating turbines could open up large swaths of ocean for power generation. But various floating turbine designs compete on cost and efficiency. Now is the time to start looking for a winner, as billions of dollars are currently being invested in the floating offshore wind industry, and the war in Ukraine could accelerate the move away from fossil fuels.
Adding to the pressure, a new report from the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) shows that despite record-high offshore wind installations in 2021, the industry is still unable to meet demands to limit climate change.
The council said floating winds were “one of the key game-changers” for the industry. However, the special engineering challenges of placing wind turbines on floating platforms, where they must contend with the raw forces of stormy oceans and unpredictable weather, have led to a variety of surprising potential solutions.
Take the Norwegian company Wind Catching Systems (WCS) for example. Staff there spent five years designing a giant waffle-shaped frame adorned with no fewer than 126 four-rotor wind turbines — like a giant Connect 4 set studded with rotating blades. The entire structure, as tall as the Eiffel Tower, will perch on a floating platform similar to those used by oil rigs.
Norway plans to install 30 GW of offshore wind by 2040. If each floating platform were equipped with a conventional turbine, this would require 1,500 to 2,000 floating platforms. “We can do that with 400,” said Ole Heggheim, CEO of WCS. Although the 126 turbines in the WCS design have a capacity of just 1 megawatt each, they are placed so close together that they can actually power each other.