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Is Wind Power’s Future in Deep Water?

Published by BBC Future. Written by Paul Hockenos.

More of our electricity will have to come from renewable sources, but we’re fast running out of space close to shore. Is the answer to go farther out to sea?


Image by Oyvind Gravas and BBC Future.


At Scotland’s easternmost headland, the old fishing port of Peterhead juts out into the North Sea.

In windswept northern Scotland, where abundant wind arrays both on land and off the coast vie for limited space, the distant location of the five towering 574ft-tall (174m) turbines, 15 miles (24km) offshore, is just one novelty of this renewable energy project. Indeed, Hywind Scotland, which generates enough electricity for more than 20,000 homes, is the first wind energy array that floats on the sea’s surface rather than being dug into the ocean bed. Proponents say the technology heralds a new generation of green energy.

Floating wind power has enormous potential to be a core technology for reaching the climate goals in Europe and around the world,says Frank Adam, an expert on wind energy technology at the University of Rostock in Germany.

In contrast to ordinary offshore wind turbines, with long towers sunk into the seabed and bolted into place in shallow seas 60-160 ft (18-48.5m) deep, the advantage of floating turbines is that they can access large swathes of outlying ocean waters, up to half a mile deep, where the world’s strongest and most consistent winds blow.


In contrast to ordinary offshore wind turbines, with long towers sunk into the seabed and bolted into place in shallow seas 60-160 ft (18-48.5m) deep, the advantage of floating turbines is that they can access large swathes of outlying ocean waters, up to half a mile deep, where the world’s strongest and most consistent winds blow.


In Europe, where the density of onshore and near-shore wind turbines in places like Germany, the United Kingdom, and Norway has spurred increasing opposition to new arrays, the floating turbines can be installed over the horizon, out of sight of coastal residents.


Some renewable energy experts remain sceptical that the high costs of floating offshore wind turbines will come down far enough to rival other clean-energy technologies. Currently the electricity they generate is often almost twice as expensive as near-shore wind turbines and three times that of land-based wind turbines.


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Read the full article from BBC Future.