Offshore wind farms are getting more practical, partly because of a new technology that allows them to float. Scotland, or rather the ocean off Scotland’s coast, will soon become home to the world’s largest installation of the technology.
The Hywind Park will consist of five floating six-megawatt turbines, anchored in water over 330 feet deep, and situated 15-22 miles from land. The project, conceived in 2014 and recently given the go-ahead, has previously been called the “world’s first floating wind farm,” and now is apparently the largest.
The Hywind farm is the first deployment of a 2009 test project by Norwegian company Statoil, which makes oil rigs. The turbines bob around individually, each one a huge steel tube ballasted at one end, and topped with a turbine. This is in contrast to regular offshore turbines, which are mounted on concrete and steel foundations, making them much harder to build. Each tube is tethered with three steel cables.
An offshore wind farm is invisible to most people, which (mostly) avoids one of the chief complaints against farms on land, but it’s not quite as practical and it’ll still kill birds. Not only does the bobbing flock of turbines have to be made to survive in a salty, corrosive environment and to withstand the buffeting of the waves it floats on, it also needs to be connected to the grid, or all those generation efforts are for nothing. On the other hand, it floats, so as long as you can get everything into place, your setup is easier than a fixed offshore wind farm.
The huge 258 meter turbines would tower over the Statue of Liberty (it’s three times higher), or London’s Big Ben, and combined they will power 20,000 homes. It’s not cheap though. Offshore turbines are around eight times more expensive than those on land. But they’re also at least eight times more impressive, and have one big advantage—we’re not going to run out of space for them any time soon.