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Floating Offshore Wind Provides New Opportunities in the European Energy System: Part 1

Tom James
Nov 18, 2021

Guidehouse Insights Windmill

This blog was coauthored by Izabela Kielichowska.

Offshore wind energy is an established technology that will play a major role in the energy transition. Until recently, predominantly fixed-bottom wind turbines have been deployed on a commercial scale. However, small-scale floating offshore wind (FLOW) demonstrators have been successfully deployed across Europe, and Hywind Scotland—the first floating offshore wind farm—has had the highest capacity factor of any wind farm in the UK for 3 consecutive years.

Several European countries have set ambitious targets for offshore wind, so attention to floating solutions is growing. By current estimates, 150 GW of FLOW capacity could be installed in Europe by 2050 in areas such as the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.

Opportunities and Challenges Facing FLOW

At the intersection between the UK, France, and Ireland, the Celtic Sea provides an opportunity for substantial expansion of FLOW in Europe and the potential for strategic interconnectors. Preliminary analysis indicates that the Celtic Sea wind resources could be greater than 100 GW—a huge opportunity that fixed-bottom wind cannot access. Earlier in 2021, The Crown Estate announced plans to create a new FLOW leasing opportunity in the Celtic Sea. Additionally, the UK has a target of 40 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. Deeper waters offer untapped potential for offshore wind in the UK and Ireland, and FLOW can open up new seabed areas. Ireland has a target of 5 GW of offshore wind by 2030, followed by a long-term plan of at least 30 GW of floating wind. France has committed to tendering 1 GW of wind yearly beginning in 2024, with target tariffs converging toward the market price for fixed turbines. These circumstances highlight the significant opportunity for developers and energy companies to develop FLOW projects in the UK.

However, FLOW has its challenges. Commercial-scale deployment requires significant infrastructure and technological support. In our recent study, Guidehouse experts identified 10 technical barriers to offshore wind deployment in California. Several of these barriers—such as challenging installation, operation, and maintenance due to harsh and deep marine environments—create uncertainty around cost and performance and are specific to FLOW projects. Secondly, there is limited data supporting floating technology performance and project development at a commercial scale. Although many similarities exist with utility-scale projects, there may be unforeseen obstacles to commercial-scale project development. Therefore, support from states and industry is required to deploy commercial-scale FLOW by 2030. In our next blog, we will discuss how tailored support can enable widespread deployment of FLOW and open the door to new seabed areas.