Benefits of a pilot

The deployment of a small number of turbines to generate information about environmental impacts is a well-proven concept that is useful to commercial-scale projects years beforehand and thus contributes to their success.

Ahead of time

The main purpose of a pilot project is to deploy years in advance of larger projects to produce useful data.

De-risk technology

New technologies, processes and logistics can be validated and refined to reduce risk and the cost of energy for larger projects.

Environment and mitigation

If sited correctly like CADEMO, a pilot project location provides testing in the same environment and with the same species as those of commercial-scale projects.

National strategies

To pave way for sustainable large-scale development, many countries use early smaller projects as catalysts for industrial benefits and cost reduction.

Early Pilot projects remain a key step in developing offshore wind

Throughout wind power history, it has been fundamentally important to demonstrate new technologies, methods of deployment, and ways of addressing environmental and social concerns. Pilot projects help pave the way for commercial-scale projects, which today have leap-frogged from hundreds of megawatts to multiple gigawatts. Therefore, the stakes are higher than ever to get it right and to create an economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable approach. Examples of pilot projects are in the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Sweden, and Japan, where smaller pilots have made offshore wind the success it has become today.

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. Several elements are demanding immediate action:

Climate change: Amid the worsening reality of climate change, many nations are strengthening their environmental goals and targets, with emissions reduction targets set closer and closer in time.

Technologies accelerate: Offshore wind turbine technologies are taking greater and faster steps than ever in size and in innovation (see more in following section). 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-outs.

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 risks.

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:

  • Currently, there are less than a handful of very mature wind turbine manufacturers with larger-size technology for floating platforms (“the larger, the better”). Wind turbine size has recently jumped, almost doubling 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. Less than a handful of them 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 will be required 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 more diligent validation.

This means that every floating platform technology and every specific wind turbine configuration needs testing and certification for each specific project. Here’s a simple example: if each of the four offshore wind turbine manufacturers available in the U.S. market and each of the 40 floating platform manufacturers were to calculate one pilot project each, this would require 160 pilots. Therefore, from a technology perspective, it’s important to recognize that pilot projects only advance the technologies that they specifically incorporate and are not an industry-wide proposition.

Because it’s critically important to ensure that the cost of offshore wind energy is competitive in energy markets, volume production and the lowering of capital and insurance premiums is equally necessary. Markets will need early, smaller-scale projects to provide a healthy market platform for these trends and to avoid gigawatt price shock.

Environmental understanding and mitigation measures

Fixed-bottom offshore wind technology has been deployed on the U.S. East Coast and in Europe and thus is well known to the industry, and its environmental impacts have been well documented in Europe. The deployment of offshore wind in a brand-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 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.