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A floating wind turbine is an offshore wind turbine built on a floating platform, rather than on the seabed. Floating wind turbines are able to be installed in deeper sea waters, overcoming some of the technological and economic challenges of building conventional fixed foundations offshore wind turbines on deep sea beds.

Floating wind farms can extend the range of marine locations where offshore wind can be deployed and take advantage of wind conditions that tend to be more favourable.

Floating wind turbines can use a variety of technologies, including semi-submersible structures, barge substructures, spar substructures, tension leg platforms and others. In general, most types of floating wind turbines are tethered to the sea bed by a range of mooring or anchor arrangements. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult Guide to a Floating Onshore Wind Farm (May 2023) provides a detailed description of the technologies, project development, costs and other issues associated with floating offshore wind.

Government targets and support for floating offshore wind

In April 2022 the government published its British Energy Security Strategy, which set an ambition to deploy up to 50 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity in the UK by 2030, with up to 5 gigawatts to come from floating wind. To help achieve its ambition, the government announced plans to speed up the consenting process for offshore wind developments, aimed at reducing consent time from up to four years down to one year.

The government published its Offshore wind net zero investment roadmap in March 2023. This set out the government’s 2035 delivery plan to meet its offshore wind ambitions, including initiatives to support infrastructure investment, supply chain capabilities and export opportunities for floating offshore wind.

Contracts for Difference

Floating offshore wind is supported by the government’s Contracts for Difference (CfD) scheme, a financial support mechanism for low-carbon power infrastructure that guarantees a set price for electricity generated. The CfD Allocation Round 4, which was launched in December 2021, included the first contract to be awarded to a floating offshore wind project, Hexicon’s TwinHub project (32 megawatts) at a price of £87.30 per megawatt-hour. CfD Allocation Round 5, launched in March 2023, did not result in any contracts being awarded to offshore wind, including floating offshore wind. The Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult suggest that this represented a signal from the offshore wind industry to government that the level of support being offered was not adequate to encourage investment in new offshore wind farms in the UK.

Grant schemes

The government also have the following support schemes:

Environmental protection

There are potential impacts on the marine environment from floating wind turbines, such as electromagnetic effects from cables, habitat alterations, noise effects and water quality as detailed in the Ocean & Coastal Management journal paper on Potential environmental effects of deepwater floating offshore wind energy facilities (June 2021).

To support the sustainable of offshore windfarms Natural England published a series of reports in October 2022 to inform the sustainable development of offshore windfarms. This including research on boosting offshore wind skills for environmental professions, the potential for offshore infrastructure as platforms for environmental monitoring, future environmental scenarios for offshore wind expansion, and an assessment of compensatory measures for impacts of offshore windfarms on seabirds.

The government, as part of the Energy Act 2023, have legislated for an Offshore Wind Environmental Improvement Package (OWEIP) to support the accelerated deployment of offshore wind while ensuring environmental commitments continue to be met. The OWEIP will include an industry-funded Marine Recovery Fund and nature-based design standards to accelerate deployment whilst enhancing the marine environment. Details on the OWEIP can be found in the Library briefing Energy Bill [HL] 2022-23: Parts 11 and 12 – Offshore wind, oil and gas.

Practical challenges

The UK’s first Offshore Wind Champion, Tim Pick, appointed by government in May 2022, engaged with stakeholders across the offshore wind industry between May 2022 and March 2023 to tackle barriers to deployment of offshore wind farms. His report Seizing our opportunities: independent report of the Offshore Wind Champion was published in April 2023 and includes recommendations on how the UK’s could continue to support the development of floating offshore wind, including:

  • supporting the continuing innovation, R&D and industrialisation efforts as the technology transitions to commercial scale deployment
  • taking a sustainable approach to CfD auction parameters and cost reduction
  • catalysing investment in large-scale, world-class port infrastructure

Grid connections that link offshore wind farms to the national electricity system can present a challenge to delivering the ambition for offshore wind deployment in the timescales required. Currently offshore wind developers build point to point connections directly to the power grid. However, as more wind farms are being built, this approach is seen as inefficient and no longer fit for purpose To address this issue, National Grid ESO, the electricity transmission system operator for GB, has produced a Holistic Network Design for Offshore Wind in July 2022 that provides a more integrated approach to connecting offshore wind to the GB power system that will be lower cost, deliverable, and have less impact on local communities and the environment.

Leasing for floating offshore wind

The Crown Estate is responsible for leasing areas of the UK’s seas for offshore wind projects. It identifies areas that could be suitable for wind farms and wind farm developers bid to lease them from the Crown.

Starting in December 2020, the Crown Estate set out plans for Offshore Wind Leasing Round 5, which established new areas for floating offshore wind developments in the Celtic Sea off the coast of Wales and South West England. In July 2023, the first Project Development Areas from the Offshore Wind Leasing Round 5 were offered to the market providing up to 4.5 gigawatts of potential floating offshore wind capacity. Discussions with interested developers continue.

Crown Estate Scotland makes seabed available for commercial-scale offshore wind projects off the coast of Scotland. Through the Scotwind Leasing process it agreed 20 projects in 2022. Of these 14 projects were for floating wind with a total generation capacity of up to 17.8 gigawatts. Details of the projects can be found on the January 2022 ScotWInd press release and the August 2022 press release.

A Future Offshore Wind Scenarios Project was led by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Crown Estate and Crown Estate Scotland. It assessed the different areas that could potentially accommodate future offshore wind projects up to 2050, including floating wind farms. The project started in February 2021 and a report was published in May 2022, Future Offshore Wind Scenarios (FOWS) to 2050.

Current floating wind farms

There are currently two operational floating offshore wind pilot projects in the UK:

  • Hywind Scotland – five 6 megawatt turbines 29km off the coast of Peterhead that has operated since 2017, developed by Equinor (a Norwegian energy company) and Masdar (a renewable energy company based in Abu Dhabi).
  • Kincardine wind farm – five 9.5 megawatt turbines 15km off the coast of Aberdeen that became operational in 2021, developed by Pilot Offshore Renewables, a joint venture between MacAskill Associates and Renewable Energy Ventures.

Further information

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