Floating Offshore Wind Kit Gets Spur From U.S., Britain

U.S. to Develop Floating Offshore Wind Power Equipment With U.K.
Wind turbines stand in the Baltic 1 offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea near Zingst, Germany. Photographer: Joern Pollex/Getty Images

Britain and the U.S. said they’d fund work on offshore wind generation technologies that work in waters as much as 500 feet deep, a measure aimed at opening vast new areas of ocean to development.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and his U.K. counterpart Edward Davey said their departments will collaborate on ways to spur development of floating platforms for offshore wind turbines that can be stationed in depths beyond 60 meters (200 feet), the limit for traditional structures fixed to the seabed.

“Turbines will be able to locate in ever-deeper waters where the wind is stronger but without the expense of foundations down to the seabed,” Davey said today in a statement from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The pact is the first of a series of agreements the U.K. government plans to sign with some of the 23 nations represented at the Clean Energy Ministerial meeting this week in London. Chu and Davy are hosting the gathering, where ministers will discuss practical steps to spread clean energy technologies.

Investors such as Japanese trading house Marubeni Corp. and pension funds including PensionDanmark A/S are channeling money into European wind projects as governments step up support for weaning utilities off fossil fuels. Vestas Wind Systems A/S, General Electric Co. and Siemens AG are building turbines for use offshore.

Offshore Wind

Britain and Germany are leading construction of 35.5 gigawatts of offshore wind plants by 2020, requiring about 127 billion euros ($167 billion) of investment, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The facilities will provide 3.2 percent of the European Union’s electricity demand.

Floating wind systems would put turbines out of sight from land, where residents have objected to sites such as the Cape Wind facility off Nantucket in Massachussets. About 67 percent of Britons favor use of wind power, Ipsos Mori Ltd. said in a release today following a survey of 1,009 adults across the U.K.

“Wind energy is recognized by the majority as having an important role in energy security and reducing carbon emissions,” Maria McCafferty, chief executive of the Renewable UK lobby group, said in a statement. “This sends a clear signal to U.K. ministers who are preparing to introduce the electricity market reform to Parliament.”

U.K. Potential

Britain has about a third of the potential sites for offshore wind farms in Europe, more than any other nation. Traditional offshore wind turbines are fixed to towers cemented to the seabed and are limited to waters shallow enough to support such structures. Many of those will be developed by 2020.

Davey wants to push turbines into deeper waters where winds are consistently stronger. That would require floating platforms for the turbines -- much like the kind the oil industry relies on to tap deposits in the North Sea and Gulf of Mexico. Turbines on floating systems also could be towed to shore for more extensive repairs, saving maintenance costs, Davey said.

“Floating wind turbines will allow us to exploit more of our wind resource, potentially more cheaply,” Davey said. “Britain has more wind turbines installed around its shores than any other country in the world and our market is rated year after year as the most attractive market among investors.”

Combining Programs

Today’s agreement will bring together separate British and U.S. government programs on renewable energy technologies.

Britain is offering 25 million pounds ($40.2 million) to contractors who can demonstrate floating offshore wind technology and will pick winners of the funds next year. The program seeks turbines that can generate as much as 7 megawatts of power by 2016. The U.S. has offered $180 million for four demonstration projects, one of which may include a floating wind power system.

Countries represented at the Clean Energy Ministerial include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, the U.K. and U.S. as well as the European Commission.

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