Offshore wind: near limitless potential

By Michael Rogers

(illustration: IEA/photo: ABB)
(illustration: IEA/photo: ABB)

Last week, in the run-up to its annual World Energy Outlook 2019, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released an excerpt – Offshore Wind Outlook 2019. The WEO excerpt offers a comprehensive look at the offshore wind, from its history though current activities and provides a forecast of the industry’s potential over the next two decades.

While onshore wind developments have seen resistance from nearby communities, offshore wind has, for the most part, avoided such opposition. And with the ongoing development of floating options, it’s possible to develop wind farms farther from shore, avoiding issues of noise and visibility altogether.

Growth potential
By 2010, the global capacity of offshore wind hit 3 gigawatts (GW), and by 2018, capacity had grown to 23 GW. Second only to solar photovoltaics, offshore wind deployment’s recent growth has been almost 30% per year. The IEA’s figures show that in 17 countries, more than 5,500 offshore turbines are in operation by mid-year 2019.

In his introduction to the report, Dr Fatih Birol, Executive Director of the IEA, writes,

Some may question why I decided to devote so much of the IEA’s time and effort to this report on offshore wind, a technology that today supplies just 0.3% of global power generation. The reason is that its potential is near limitless. Improved technology and steep cost reductions are putting more and more of that potential within our reach. But much work remains to be done for offshore wind to help decarbonise electricity and, through the production of hydrogen, possibly other sectors as well. That work includes putting in place polices to promote investment and spur innovation. I hope this report helps governments make those smart policy choices for the future development of this powerful emerging technology.

Why indeed – the IEA report forecasts that offshore wind capacity could conceivably accrue investments that reaching USD 1 trillion by 2040 – which would represent a potential increase of 15 times current capacity levels.

According to the IEA, it’s technically possible for Europe to produce, via offshore wind, as much as 50,000 TWh per year. In the US, potential production could be as high 46,000 TWh per year. Considering that 46,000 TWh is three times the annual demand for electricity in the US’ lower 48 states, growing the offshore wind industry as much as the IEA suggests only makes good sense.

The ‘Offshore Wind Outlook 2019’ combines the latest technology and market developments with a specially commissioned new geospatial analysis that maps out wind speed and quality along hundreds of thousands of kilometres of coastline around the world (illustration: IEA/Esri)
The ‘Offshore Wind Outlook 2019’ combines the latest technology and market developments with a specially commissioned new geospatial analysis that maps out wind speed and quality along hundreds of thousands of kilometres of coastline around the world (illustration: IEA/Esri)

Spur innovation
While monopiles and jackets have served the offshore wind industry well for shallower, near-coast waters, development of a variety of floating options have made way for floating wind farms in deeper waters.

The Offshore Wind Outlook includes a look floating projects, such as the first multi-unit floating wind farm, the 30 MW Hywind in Scotland, which was commissioned in 2017, as well as smaller projects such as Floatgen in France.

Looking forward, Equinor’s now-approved 200 MW project off the Canary Islands is among the projects that will begin commercial production by the mid 2020s. Add to these Chinese projects and growth in emerging markets, and the prospects for lowering carbon emissions across the globe increases.

Looking forward
“In the past decade, two major areas of technological innovation have been game-changers in the energy system by substantially driving down costs: the shale revolution and the rise of solar PV,” says Dr Birol. “And offshore wind has the potential to join their ranks in terms of steep cost reduction.”

The IEA expects offshore wind costs to halve over the near, from the USD 4,000 per kW to USD 2,000 per kW. By 2040, excluding transmission costs, USD 1,500 per kW can be expected.

Policy support should help drive costs down, and as with offshore oil and gas, proximity to existing wind farms should contribute to cost reduction. Expect industry innovations to lead to cost savings as well.

The IEA also considers co-locating renewable, “green” hydrogen production facilities near offshore wind farms would ensure additional carbon reduction.

Well worth a read, visit the IEA website to find out more and download the Offshore Wind Outlook 2019