Floating turbines give Scotland’s wind industry the edge

Scotland has an admirable record with renewable energy, particularly when it comes to community-owned projects.

But the country is aiming to increase its renewable energy installations across the board as part of an optimistic drive.

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One contributing factor is a willingness to experiment with new technologies – one company which is trialling tidal energy recently set new generation records.

However, wind power is the resource in the spotlight for Scotland, where there is huge potential energy to be captured. Across late 2016 and early 2017, there were several times when the country ran at high percentages of wind energy in their energy mix, with one stretch in which wind generated 153% of Scotland’s energy needs.

So it seems only natural that the country is tapping into this powerful resource by developing the world’s first floating wind farm.

Read more: Dutch focus on offshore wind to reduce carbon footprint

The Hywind Project, which should be complete by the end of 2017, is a five turbine, 30 MW project capable of powering up to 20,000 homes when running at full tilt.

While this is currently significantly lower than many other offshore wind projects, this is less important than establishing the viability of floating structures. Floating platforms could radically change the face of wind energy if they are found to be suitable, thanks to their ability to open up vast areas of global seas for energy generation.

For offshore wind, turbines have typically been affixed to the seabed; this is because of technological limitations in fitting foundations in deep waters.

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However, on the open sea, wind speeds are higher and more consistent, which exponentially increases the amount of electricity that can be generated – an important factor for a renewable power source that faces challenges from intermittency issues.

The North Sea has shallower waters around the UK, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands which is why wind energy is a popular form of energy across these countries.

Other seas are much deeper, however, and so fixed offshore turbines cannot be used. If it can be demonstrated that floating turbines are a practical technology, then offshore wind becomes a viable form of renewable energy for countries with deeper waters.

As such, the Hywind project is an important one, not just for Scotland but also for the wider wind energy industry. The hope is that the project will offer an alternative model for the wind farms of the future.

Read more: Scottish community-owned renewables hit 595 MW

Indeed, the Hywind project –which will sit 15 miles off the Aberdeenshire coast – is not the only floating wind farm under development in Scottish waters. The Kincardine and Dounreay wind farms will sit off the north and north-east coastlines respectively.

While both of these are experimenting with floating structures, each one has a unique approach; the Dounreay project is a multi-turbine floating platform, while Kincardine will use a semi-submersible floating structure developed by Portuguese company Windfloat.

As these projects progress, they are setting out a new roadmap for renewable success across Scotland; clearly, the wind of change blowing.