Statoil’s new Hywind wind park, off the east Scottish coast, may not, in fact, be the “world’s first floating wind farm,” as the Norwegian oil and gas company claims. That honor surely belongs to Japan and its iconic floating field 12 miles from Fukushima Dai-Ichi (yes, that Fukushima). But, maybe we’re being unkind to point that out. That Statoil is building a floating wind park at all is pretty remarkable. Indeed, you wonder why it had to stretch the truth about its good news.
Floating wind turbines offer three advantages over turbines fixed to the ocean-bed (potentially at least). First, you can place them deeper into the water: right out into the middle of the ocean, perhaps. Two, you’re not producing what critics of offshore farms call “visual pollution.” And three, you’re harnessing the wind where it’s greatest and most dependable. Statoil’s 30 megawatt turbine armada will sit at “Buchan Deep,” an area off Peterhead, where the water is more than 100 meters deep. It’s expected to start producing power in 2017.
The machines are enormous: three times as tall as the Statue of Liberty (see the illustration in the slide show) and enough to produce power for 20,000 homes. Statoil is putting $230 million into the project, part of a new energy solutions division it’s developing. The company hopes to open a new market in deep-offshore wind, building on its expertise in deep offshore platforms and Scotland’s well-established oil and gas logistics industry.
The big question, as ever, is cost. Offshore wind turbines–like the ones off the Japanese coast–are said to be eight times more expensive than those on land. The turbines, installation, and power connection infrastructure are all more expensive. Statoil claims that the current project’s costs are 60% to 70% better than its Hywind Demo project in Norway, though that’s not nearly enough. To be competitive with other forms of renewables–and non-reliant on government support–it figures it needs to cut costs another 40% to 50% by 2030.