Benefits of a pilot
The deployment of a small number of turbines to generate information about potential environmental impacts, years in advance of commercial-scale projects, is a well-proven concept that contributes to their success.
The importance of being ahead of time
To have enough time to generate information of various kinds, ideally a demonstration project should have at least two to three years of operational experience before large-scale commercialization begins. Immediate action is necessary:
Climate change – Amid the worsening reality of climate change, many nations are strengthening their environmental goals and targets, with emissions reduction targets occurring with greater frequency.
Technology acceleration – Offshore wind turbines are increasing in size and incorporating innovations on an accelerated cycle. However, time is required to assess and design floaters accordingly for such turbines and to validate and certify the technology ahead of commercial-scale build-out.
Environmental science – Having operational turbines in the water allows the collection of reliable scientific evidence about the relevant species and habitats, and about ways to mitigate potential impacts.
Socio-economic values – Gigawatt-scale projects will require the maturation of local infrastructure and workforces. International competition with lower-cost labor and raw materials could undercut U.S. supply chains unless the local companies, ports, and communities are given a chance to engage and evolve.
Technology and size
Since the very first offshore wind turbine in 1989, the pilot project approach has proven necessary to mature and de-risk developing offshore wind technologies. With today’s floating platform technology, this has become increasingly important for several reasons:
- There are only a handful of mature wind turbine manufacturers with large-size technology for floating platforms. Wind turbine size has recently increased, almost doubling the rotor swept area.
- The floating platform supply chain is the opposite: currently, there are 35-40 different companies, most of them small and less mature. Only a few have installed and validated technology at 6-9.5 MW in projects of 10 wind turbines or less.
- Each company has its own intellectual property, funders and business plans. Therefore, pilot projects need to allow a sufficient number of companies to reach technical and industrial maturity to form a competitive market.
- The growth of commercial-scale project sizes from a few hundred megawatts to multi-gigawatt size has pushed investments into multiple billions of dollars, thus requiring diligent validation.
Every floating platform technology and wind turbine configuration needs testing and certification for each project. For example: if the four offshore wind turbine manufacturers available in the U.S. market and the 40 floating platform manufacturers were to develop one pilot project each, this would require 160 pilots. Therefore, from a technology perspective, it is important to recognize that pilot projects only advance the technologies that they specifically incorporate and are not an industry-wide proposition.
Because it is critically important to ensure that the cost of offshore wind energy is competitive in the energy market, volume production and the lowering of capital and insurance premiums is equally necessary. The market will need early, smaller-scale projects to provide a healthy platform for these trends and to avoid gigawatt price shock.
Environmental understanding and mitigation
Fixed-bottom offshore wind technology has been deployed on the U.S. East Coast and in Europe, thus is well known to the industry, and its environmental impacts have been well-documented in Europe. The deployment of new floating platform technology in a new environment like the U.S. Pacific Coast requires similar scientific understanding.
Early, small projects – a key function of national strategies
Over the past three decades, an important role was played in Europe by offshore pilot projects, such as: Vindeby (5 MW), Tunoe Knob (5 MW), Bockstigen (2.5 MW), Utgrunden (10 MW), Yttre Stengrund (10 MW), Arklow (25.2 MW), Beatrice (10 MW), Methil Docks (7 MW), and Hywind (30 MW).
Since then, France and the United Kingdom (UK) have put in place clear pathways for floating wind development, such as France’s three projects of 25 MW each with 8-10 MW turbines, to be followed by larger commercial projects. In the UK the Crown Estate launched a test and demonstration round for floating wind in 2021, awarding three projects of 100 MW each for new technologies with local industry ties.
The UK and French strategies are examples of how to attract technologies and initiate local fabrication in a special power purchase system for floating offshore wind. France utilized a fixed price strategy and the UK used a special CfD (Contract for Difference) Power Purchase Agreement round to allow the initial, higher-than-market-price cost of power.