In the last decade or so, even though solar power has consistently made news and hogged headlines, its counterpart wind has, in its own subtle way, proven its efficacy. While wind energy and onshore are almost synonymous with one another, the other wing which was hitherto relegated to the background, has now begun to prove its capability.
I am referring to offshore wind, currently seen as a hugely dependable source of energy, a case in point being the British grid. In an official release, Norwegian energy company Statoil announced that its first wind turbine from the Dudgeon facility off the British coast was now providing electricity to the nation’s grid. “Up to 6,000 homes are now getting power from offshore wind. Once in full operation later this year, the entire Dudgeon wind farm will have the capacity to provide power for more than 400,000 average households,” it stated.
While the first wind turbine at Dudgeon was installed in January, altogether, 67 wind turbines will be placed offshore in the $1.9 billion investment, reported UPI.
In 2016, Statoil signed a letter of intent with state-owned renewable energy company Statkraft to take over as operator of the Sheringham Shoal wind farm off the British coast. Sheringham Shoal, operational since 2012, is one of the largest offshore wind farms in service in the world and has the capacity to provide enough power to meet the annual demands of nearly a quarter million average households.
Taking the case for offshore further, a number of instances the world over are proof enough of its credibility.
The Japan Wind Power Association for example, estimates that the long-term potential for offshore wind energy in the country is approximately 600GW. Despite its potential, investment in offshore wind projects has been limited and currently, Japan boasts only 49.7MW of offshore wind installed capacity using 28 turbines at 8 locations. There is a lot of hope however, since Japan has shown its commitment to expanding offshore wind and this has led to an increased interest from prospective international wind farm developers, JDSupra Business Advisor reported.
Then, there’s the case of Poland, as a report by Bloomberg Energy Finance corroborates. “Baltic Sea may become the next offshore wind market after the North Sea. Thanks to shallow waters, lower wave heights, weaker tides, low salinity and lack of icing it is possible to reduce costs during project installation, operation and maintenance. In this view, major investors and producers are looking with interest at the development of the Polish offshore wind energy market as it can become a significant player by providing a steady pipeline of projects for the European industry over the coming years,” it states.
Encouragingly, industry experts have also voiced their consent for offshore wind energy. Hugh McNeal, chief executive of the trade body RenewableUK, was quoted as telling The Guardian that “offshore wind farms could provide cheaper power than Britain’s new wave of nuclear power stations.”
Studies too have found that the construction of offshore and onshore wind farms in the United Kingdom (UK) was responsible for €12.7bn (£11bn) of investment in 2016, or nearly half the year’s financial activity for new wind power in the European Union (EU).
A market report by Credence Research, Inc. “Europe Offshore Wind Energy Market, By Geography- Growth, Future Prospects and Competitive Analysis, 2016 – 2024,” reveals that the UK was the largest market for offshore wind energy in 2015 among all European countries.
“Increasing investment in offshore wind energy projects from the private sector coupled with favourable government policies such as Energy Act, 2013 and establishment of Offshore Wind Cost Reduction Task Force to achieve levelised costs of offshore wind to £100 per MW/h by 2020 represent high growth for the offshore wind energy market during the forecast period (2016-2024),” it further adds.
The report also predicts that the Europe offshore wind energy market was 13.4 GW in 2016, and is expected to reach 29.8 GW by 2024, expanding at a CAGR of 12.0% from 2016 to 2024.
Increasing investment in the offshore wind projects especially in Europe is anticipated to fuel the growth of offshore wind energy market. However, the report also cautions that high cost of installation, delayed regulatory approvals and stringent labour laws are factors expected to restraint the growth of Europe offshore wind energy market during the forecast period (2016-2024).
Germany, according to the report, has been projected to be the fastest growing segment among all European countries during the forecast period. High number of approved and pipeline projects coupled with increasing investment from private sector in offshore wind energy is anticipated to fuel the growth of offshore wind energy in the region. The country is anticipated to witness an addition of 4.5 GW capacity of installation offshore wind energy from under construction projects in next five years. Moreover, approval of new projects and pipeline projects is projected to expand the installation capacity to 9.4 GW by 2020. Interestingly, it also holds the second largest market share in terms of installation capacity in Europe and is projected to gain significant market share by 2023. Other regions such as Denmark and Netherlands are also anticipated to witness high growth during the forecast period (2016-2024).
Meanwhile, in India, a go-ahead has been given to a wind measurement project that would involve setting up an offshore data collection platform in the Gulf of Kutch, near the Gujarat coast, as part of efforts to ensure that India harnesses its enormous wind power potential.
According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), “With a vast coastline of 7,600 kms, it is estimated that India’s offshore wind energy potential is around 350 GW.
In September 2015, the Union cabinet cleared the National Offshore Wind Energy Policy. This entails wind energy mapping of the country to identify high- potential locations to be offered to firms for development through a bidding process. Private parties who are keen, can also get involved in obtaining site-specific wind speeds and met-ocean data for feasibility studies for the development of offshore projects, The Mint reported.
Fact, not fiction!
To make matters even more interesting for the offshore wind energy industry, Danish, Dutch and German firms are now aiming to their ‘science fiction’ plan a reality.
Eventually, a vast artificial island will be built at Dogger Bank in the North Sea, with a harbour, airstrip and homes, to help provide a vast new supply of renewable energy, under plans drawn up by two companies. The German and Dutch arms of electricity firm TenneT and Danish company Energinet were quoted as stating that the North Sea Wind Power Hub would act as a hub for offshore wind turbines. The wind farms are likely to supply power to over 80 million people.
Robots jump the bandwagon too!
Apart from science, technology will most likely aid the offshore sector. A recent development in this regard has been the University of Manchester leading a consortium to investigate advanced technologies, including robotics and artificial intelligence, for the operation and maintenance of offshore wind farms.
Estimated to cost £5m, it will investigate the use of advanced sensing, robotics, virtual reality models and artificial intelligence to reduce maintenance cost and effort. Predictive and diagnostic techniques will allow problems to be picked up early, when easy and inexpensive maintenance will allow problems to be readily fixed. Robots and advanced sensors will be used to minimize the need for human intervention in the hazardous offshore environment, phys.org reported.
The use of robots, it is believed, will enable the operation in difficult or hazardous environments, for instance sub-sea to inspect cables, in high-voltage environments to inspect high voltage equipment and around the wind turbines to check their mechanical structures. Additionally, advanced sensors, such as sonar techniques, will also be used to assess sub-sea cable wear and degradation in situ. This, along with state-of-the-art system modelling and artificial intelligence, will be used to best assess the data produced.
What seemed like a mere possibility a few years ago, is now well on its way to becoming a reality. From finding a mention, it is now occupying centre stage having proven itself as a clean and dependable source of power. Going by the recent developments, it wouldn’t be hasty to conclude that offshore wind is definitely here to stay. And power.
Sapna Gopal is an independent journalist, writer and blogger.